The city of Atwater, California tells visitors “everything you need to enjoy life is right here in Atwater.” And soon, there will be a Wal-Mart supercenter. By now, you would expect that even Wal-Mart supporters would admit that the store is not a form of economic development. But some people still don’t understand that a new building going up does not mean new jobs.
Case in point: According to KMPH Fox News, the Atwater Wal-Mart is providing “the sweet sounds of construction,” as a new superstore takes shape. This community of just over 26,000 people already boasts the Applegate Ranch shopping mall, anchored by a 178,500 s.f. Super Target.
Fox News tells its viewers that the new Wal-Mart in Atwater “will create about 250 new jobs — and 85% or more of those jobs “will be brand new to Wal-Mart.” A spokesman for the retailer added, “So we’re very happy to teach, train, teach them a field if they don’t know a field.”
Wal-Mart told the TV station that 60 people showed up at 8 a.m. the other day to apply for jobs. The store is not expected to open for another three months. The Wal-Mart Hiring Center is already busy with job applicants, Fox News says.
But the reality that many of these 250 “new” jobs already exist in Atwater, at the existing grocery stores in town, like Save Mart, Food 4 Less, and the Super Target. The new Wal-Mart is expected to be around 141,192 s.f., and will have a substantial grocery component. Nearly all of the food sales at Wal-Mart will be transferred from existing merchants, so the employment numbers that Fox took from Wal-Mart are gross figures, not net. Existing jobs will be lost in Atwater, to make way for the “new” jobs at Wal-Mart.
Unfortunately, this Fox News story is typical of the shallow economic understanding that the media has of the ‘Wal-Mart effect.’
The media makes it appear as if all the economic activity at a new big box store is added to existing activity. But as many studies indicate, the economic value to host communities can be a wash, or even a loss in terms of jobs and tax revenues.
Adding Wal-Mart to the mix of existing retailers will draw discount sales from the Super Target, and grocery sales from Target and other area grocery stores.
Readers are urged to email Atwater Mayor Joan Faul at: [email protected] with this message:
“Dear Mayor Faul, There is a reason that downtown Atwater has turned into a niche retail market of craft and antique stores. You have allowed the big box malls to attract away the shoppers that once came to your downtown. Atwater Gateway and Applegate Ranch have become your new downtown, and your central core areas is no longer ‘the place to be.’
Now you are pinning your hopes on Wal-Mart Target, Lowe’s, Tractor Supply and all the national chains, leaving Atwater with little local retail charm of this own. This is a bad economic decision on the city’s part, and has left Atwater looking like hundreds of other nondescript communities in America.
Worst of all, you have been led by Wal-Mart to believe that this project will actually create 250 new jobs. Over the next year or two, you will watch some of your existing merchants close their doors, and you will have to change your job count as existing merchants throw people out of work.
It’s time to change your future plans, and seek to attract businesses that actually add new value to your local economy. Retail does not lead growth,it must follow it.”