It gets cold in Pennfield, Michigan, especially in January. The temperature this morning in Pennfield was only 19 degrees. But no one expected the cold wind that has frozen Wal-Mart’s plans to build a supercenter in this township. The Battle Creek Enquirer reported this week that township officials learned that Wal-Mart has put its supercenter plans on ice for a year. The superstore was slated to be built on Northeast Capital Avenue, but township Supervisor Rob Behnke says there will be no store for at least another year. In fact, Behnke said Wal-Mart had planned on building 11 superstores in Michigan this year, but they are all in limbo now. Wal-Mart’s ice capades in Michigan go back to a hastily-arranged announcement the company made at its annual shareholder’s meeting last June, that it was scaling back the number of new supercenters, and delaying as many as 80 stores that were meant to open in 2007, until 2008 or later. But Behnke said he found out something was amiss when he spoke with the developer, Atwell-Hicks. Behnke then spoke with a Wal-Mart public affairs “manager” who confirmed the change in plans. Wal-Mart had originally planned to begin construction in the summer of 2008, but now the retailer won’t begin construction until the summer of 2009. “It’s disappointing from the township’s perspective because we were looking forward to development along the Capital Avenue corridor and, obviously, Wal-Mart was a critical part of that,” Behnke told the Enquirer. The Supervisor said Wal-Mart’s setback will not slow down the township’s plans to expand commercial activity along Capital Avenue.
Not only has Behnke no clue about the economic dislocation that Wal-Mart brings, but he’s eagerly pursuing companies like Costco as part of the township’s marketing plans. Behnke wants taxpayers to pay for a marketing campaign targeted to the big national chain stores. “We have well over 300 to 400 acres of property that is already zoned commercial,” Behnke said. “We are going to go out and make sure businesses know who we are.” Wal-Mart already knows who they are in Pennfield. The retailer has a supercenter in Battle Creek just 9 miles away. It might take shoppers in Pennfield as much as 15 minutes to get to the supercenter in Battle Creek, but township officials want their own store inside their township boundaries. It’s this lack of regional planning that has turned every little hamlet and township into a retail fiefdom, each wanting the logos the other hamlet has, regardless of how redundant it becomes. Pennfield has only 8,792 residents as of 2006. Their population has actually fallen since 2000, when there were 8,913 people in the township. It’s population has gone nowhere over the past two decades. As they bulk up with big retailers, they are simply pushing out the smaller retail businesses in town. Companies like Wal-Mart add no value to the Pennfield economy, and create no ‘new’ jobs. They move jobs from other cash registers. Wal-Mart has been over-saturating its market areas for years, but in the summer of 2007 they hit the Wal. The company finally succumbed to pressure inside and outside the company to stop building stores so close to one another. Wal-Mart had admitted that it has been cutting into its own sales per square foot — which is one of the reasons its same store sales figures have plummeted in recent years. Readers are urged to call or fax Supervisor Rob Behnke at (269) 968-8549 or (fax) 269-968-2021, with this message: “You should be delighted that Wal-Mart has delayed construction of its proposed superstore by one year. That gives Pennfield time to pass a zoning ordinance limiting the size of store footprints. Pennfield’s population does not warrant a huge supercenter, especially with one located only 9 miles away in Battle Creek. Instead of trying to woo national chain stores, which come and go, why not stimulate small business development in Pennfield? Use your office to expand local businesses, and keep your dollars circulating in the local economy. You are not chasing jobs or revenues when you chase Wal-Mart and Costco. Look closer to home for real economic growth.”