It’s Christmas in August for Wal-Mart. The richest retailer in the world is getting a series of financial “gifts” from Florida taxpayers in return for building a distribution center they must have to stock their Florida stores. In fiscal year 2007, Wal-Mart transacted $344 billion in net sales, and had a profit of $11.28 billion. That’s a profit of $30.9 million every day. Despite all this money, when Wal-Mart approaches local communities to build a superstore or a 850,000 s.f. distribution center, they plead poverty. The giant retailer tries to convince local officials that without public subsidies, their project will never fly. It’s not remarkable that this huge company would try to act like a welfare recipient — but what is remarkable is that any city or town official would fall for that “poor mouth” routine. But it’s happened all across America. Much of Wal-Mart’s distribution center network has been built with public tax subsidies. The latest county to fall for this “scam” show by Wal-Mart is Putnam County , Florida. According to the Palatka Daily News, Wal-Mart has asked Putnam county taxpayers to pick up the cost of a $2 million road to their proposed distribution center in South Putnam. This coming Tuesday, Wal-Mart will submit a 38 page memorandum of understanding to the Putnam County Commissioners. Fortunately, the meeting will take place at 1 pm, while most county taxpayers are busy working to pay for the funds that Wal-Mart will siphon from the county treasury. The $2 Million road will be called “New Crawford Road,” but it really should be called “Walton’s Welfare Way,” because it will give Wal-Mart trucks and workers direct access to the distribution center from U.S 17. Wal-Mart suggested the access road after opponents raised objections to truck traffic on Clifton Road adjacent to the site. Wal-Mart says the county would pay for the road with a $2 million “grant” from the state Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development. So state taxpayer’s are being clipped for the $2 million — but it’s a “grant,” as if the money was conferred by some angel. Wal-Mart has even offered to loan $2 million to the county until the grant is obtained. If the road costs more than that, according to the memorandum, the county would have to look for more sources of funds. If no other sources are found, Wal-Mart will pick up the difference. Even worse, county taxpayers will assume ongoing maintenance of the road, which will need significant maintenance because of the incessant heavy truck traffic. But wait! There’s more. The Wal-Mart MOU with the county also requires that the county assist Wal-Mart in obtaining job training and job training funds through the Florida Workforce Investment Act and other programs. The county must also agree not to raise the property tax assessments on the property until the distribution center is completed. Wal-Mart is also in line for as much as $2.8 million under the state’s Qualified Target Industry grant as an “economic development project in a priority funding area.” If Wal-Mart guarantees 400 full time jobs, the company will also benefit from the county’s Job Incentive Program, under which the county will rebate Wal-Mart $280,000 per year after collecting a projected $380,000 per year in property taxes from the company.
Sprawl- Busters last wrote about this distribution center project on May 30, 2006, when we reported that a real estate consultant representing Wal-Mart had threatened homeowners in Crescent City that if they didn’t sell an easement or right of way onto their property to make way for the Wal-Mart Distribution Center, that the retailer was prepared to ask Putnam County officials to use eminent domain to get their land. As soon as that story hit the media, Wal-Mart headquarters quickly apologized to the neighbors. “We sincerely apologize for the tone of those letters and do not condone the actions and representations made by this third-party consultant,” Wal-Mart said. This project was first announced in late 2005 for a 210-acre site about three miles south of Crescent City. The original plan ran into legal problems from neighbors and from Volusia County. Wal-Mart had to withdraw its original proposal for a planned unit development (PUD), and resubmit it for a standard state review process. The state’s Department of Community Affairs also raised concerns about the traffic impacts. Wal-Mart says the D.C. will generate 262 trucks entering and leaving the center every day, or 95,630 truck trips per year. Car trips would total 602 daily trips in and out. Sprawl-Busters started noticing so many of these welfare-for-warehouse deals across the country, that we wrote up a collection of such stories called “Wal-Mart’s Distribution System — Built on Welfare.” Putnam County Commissioners do not need to offer any welfare to Wal-Mart, and the candy-store of incentives for this distribution center is completely unnecessary, since Wal-Mart needs to build this facility to serve its Florida stores. These deals give new meaning to the concept of “Free Market.” Wal-Mart is fishing in Florida for the largest free deal it can hook, and state taxpayers are the ones who will swallow the bait. Wal-Mart’s smaller competitors will never get roads built for them, or offers of special tax deals. But Wal-Mart will use such deals to proceed to put their smaller competitors out of business. That’s how the “free” market works in Bentonville. You go after what you can for free, and you use it to kill other markets. Readers are urged to contact the Putnam County Commissioners by going to http://www1.putnam-fl.com/live/sitemap.asp. Email them with this message: “I urge you to reject Wal-Mart’s multi-million welfare memorandum of understanding. A company with net profit of $11.28 billion does not need subsidies from Florida taxpayers. Why do we help out small businesses, instead of throwing welfare at the largest corporations? Vote down the MOU with Wal-Mart!” For a copy of Sprawl-Buster’s article on Wal-Mart welfare, email [email protected]