Residents in the tiny village of Mt. Orab, Ohio have been waiting for months for the other shoe to drop. Rumors have been circulating since last summer that a Wal-Mart supercenter was coming. Mr. Orab, population 2,800, is located in southwestern Ohio in Brown County about 30 miles east southeast of Cincinnati. The village is surrounded by Wal-Mart supercenters. There are 5 supercenters within 25 miles of Mt. Orab, with the closest being Amelia, Ohio, roughly 15 miles away. At first local residents thought they had dodged the bullet, because a Wal-Mart supercenter seemed to be in the works for nearby Georgetown, Ohio. The now Mt. Orab has been moved up on the priority list, and some residents are scrambling around to learn more about the company’s plans. As one resident wrote to Sprawl-Busters: “We don’t need a supercenter in a town of 2,900 people. We don’t want to see Wal-Mart come in and ruin the environment — as this will also push the local town leaders to approve a multi-lane bypass. Our town can do much better. A Wal-Mart is an easy way out.” The Georgetown, Ohio News Democrat greeted the news of a supercenter with the observation that “this should be a big boost to the county’s sales tax – something that is sorely needed in Brown County.” That opinion may not be shared by the Mt. Orab Kroger store, which will lose revenues and jobs if shoppers switch their grocery purchases to Wal-Mart. Analysts says Kroger has responded well to Wal-Mart’s saturation of supercenters — but still the news cannot be encouraging to any existing business in Mt. Orab, and the “boost” to the sales tax may not net out to what the newspaper believes. The Mt. Orab economy is not exactly on fire, and the newspaper noted that as cheap retail jobs flood the trade area, businesses like the local General Motors dealerships are closing, because GM isn’t selling enough cars. Mt. Orab’s Mayor Bruce Lunsford let the Wal-Mart cat out of the bag in late October, when he told the newspaper, “There was a permit issued for Wal-Mart to build a store.” This caught many residents by surprise, since the issuance of a permit is the end of the process, not the beginning. A Wal-Mart spokesman told the News Democrat his company was “definitely interested in the area.” The retailer said that “If things go according to plans, we could expect to break ground sometime in 2010.” The Wal-Mart PR spokesman seemed to waffle on the company’s future plans for Mt. Orab, saying he could not directly “guarantee” that a Wal-Mart location was firm for the Mt. Orab site. Yet a zoning permit for the north side of Route 32, has apparently been approved by the Mt. Orab Zoning Commissioner for a 143,925 s.f superstore. The front page of the News Democrat showed the Mayor and Mt. Orab village officials holding up site development plans for a Wal-Mart supercenter, with a caption that said the village was discussing “the possibility of a local Wal-Mart supercenter.” Wal-Mart told local officials that a store this size would employ 300 to 350 people — but they did not mention the net employment impact once jobs lost at other businesses are deducted. Wal-Mart brushed off any suggestion that local residents might oppose the store. “The community around Mt. Orab seems to be supportive of the convenience of a 24-hour superstore,” the Wal-Mart PR representative said. One village council member said the opening of a Wal-Mart could signal a transition into a new era economically for Mt. Orab, and said growth would likely continue at a rapid pace even after the store is open. “This is probably just the beginning,” the village council member said. The irony of his comment seemed to escape the star-struck council. If the project is approved, the construction on the Mt. Orab supercenter could begin in 2010, with a potential opening in 2011.
It’s not clear yet how far along this project has progressed. Opponents of the project are just now trying to review Wal-Mart’s application. But it was certainly disconcerting for them to see the Mayor on the front page of the newspaper holding up Wal-Mart’s site development plans. Mayor Lundsford was quoted as saying the land is “zoned for a facility like this,” and that Wal-Mart had met all of the village zoning requirements “so far.” The Mayor touted the project’s economic benefits, even though he’s had no economic impact study done. “It is critical for Brown County to gain more retail sales for the sales tax,” the Mayor said. The fact is, any sales tax generated by the project will go to Brown County, not the village of Mt. Orab. But the Mayor said the county would use the money for the detention center and Common Pleas Court. So the Wal-Mart sales tax could go towards the law enforcement costs of processing the increasing level of crime attributable to the Wal-Mart, from petty shop-lifting, to more serious personal crimes, car theft, forgery, etc. Readers are urged to call Mt. Orab Mayor Bruce Lunsford, at 937-444-2692, with the following message: “Mayor Lunsford, before you embrace another Wal-Mart supercenter for your area, study the impact the saturation of Wal-Mart stores will have on existing businesses. The impact will spread far beyond Kroger. Studies have shown that 60% to 80% of Wal-Mart’s sales are transferred from existing merchants. So don’t count your sales taxes before they’re hatched. With a Wal-Mart superstore only 15 miles away in Amelia, this store will not only hurt local businesses — but it will cannibalize its other surrounding supercenters.”