Wal-Mart has a voracious appetite for grocery stores, and now is getting help from state government in its quest to become the world’s largest grocer. Wal-Mart is building an 880.000 grocery distribution center in Tomah, WI, which will supplyfood products to its supercenters in Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa. The 193 acre site is at the intersection of two major interstate highways. In Iowa, activists have identified more than 20 new sites for Wal-Mart supercenters, either planned or already under construction. All this activity has been helped by compliant state and local officials. The city of Tomah bought the land for $2.4 million, and then turned around and sold it to Wal-Mart for only $775,000, or less than one-third of its purchase price. The city also agreed to use its influence to get state and federal officials to build an interchange onto interstate 94, which will provide Wal-Mart with a $5 million road improvement at no cost to the retailer. The city also agreed to provide temporary city office space to Wal-Mart next fall so it can begin interviewing job candidates. The city hopes to make back some of the cost of infrastructure work at the site through a tax increment financing effort, but the fact remains that all these financing deals write down the project cost to Wal-Mart, a company that had $137 billion in sales. The small grocery stores in Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa may well wonder why one giant corporation got corporate welfare that eventually was used to put them out of business.
The Tomah distribution center is expected to open in the spring of 2000. Wal-Mart says it will “create” 400 jobs within three years of opening. That figure may be dwarfed by the number of jobs lost at grocery stores in the midwest that shut down within three years of the Tomah hub being opened. All of this is brought to you by local and state corporate welfare.