In the employment field, it’s called ‘trading down.’ In the mid 1990s, General Motors had roughly 60,000 employees based in Ohio. Today, the GM workforce in Ohio has fallen to 10,300. GM for years was the largest private employer in Ohio, but now the largest employer in Ohio is Wal-Mart. GM still has more workers in Ohio than anywhere outside of Michigan, but the recession has made the contrast between GM and Wal-Mart all the more stark. Recently when Wal-Mart advertised job openings for its new superstore in Liberty, Ohio, there were nearly 9 applicants for every one job available. This new Wal-Mart has a long history in Liberty. Local residents organized to fight the store as far back as 2005. On July 16, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart was desperately trying to find some water for its proposed superstore on Belmont Avenue in the old Liberty Plaza in Liberty, Ohio — but politics was keeping the tap shut. Liberty township’s Administrator Patrick Ungaro told officials that Wal-Mart informed him in July that their superstore project was on ice over the issue of water. In 2007 Wal-Mart indicated that they were putting the project on hold for another reason — a change in the company’s growth plans. The township was ready for the project. The fire department had approved plans to tear down the existing Liberty Plaza buildings. The only unhappy party was Forum Health — which rented space in the Plaza that they didn’t want to vacate. Forum Health, which used its rental space in the plaza for its finance department, held up the Wal-Mart project for months, because the health care company did not want to pay for moving costs. An agreement was eventually reached between Forum, the plaza’s previous owners, and Wal-Mart. In July of 2007, Administrator Ungaro told the Vindicator newspaper, “The plans are approved. The land will be transferred and everything is ready to go.” But a year later, no work had begun on the site. Wal-Mart told Liberty officials that unless the township and the city of Youngstown, Ohio agrees to set up a Joint Economic Development District (JEED), which allows Youngstown to supply water to the Liberty Plaza site, the supercenter could be in trouble. A JEDD is an agreement between two communities to share services in exchange for compensation. Construction on the supercenter was slated to begin last summer. A Wal-Mart spokesman told the Times-Chronicle newspaper, “At this time, our plans are to continue to move forward with this project.” Liberty township officials met with Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams to talk about setting up a JEED on a site near Liberty Plaza — but not part of the Wal-Mart site. “We thought that would be a good idea for the developer of the property, the township and the city,” Ungaro told the Chronicle. “Now, they also are talking about a JEDD on Belmont Avenue.” The township said that Youngstown had waded into water over its head, because the Liberty Plaza site already has waterlines, and Liberty saw no reason for the JEED there. All this has caused waves at the Trumbull County, Ohio level. County Commissioner Frank Fuda said that the Mayor of Youngstown did not have the legal right to stop a project in Trumbull county. “I don’t think he can do that,” Fuda told the Chronicle. “The waterline is already there. I question whether they can pick and choose who they deliver water to. Youngstown has been selling water to the plaza.” Fuda even called in the county Prosecutor’s Office to see how he could stop Mayor Williams from denying water to Wal-Mart. “If they don’t want to sell us water, we will get it from Girard or from Niles, Ohio,” Fuda warned. “We are not going to allow Youngstown to stop progress in Trumbull County.” For his part, Youngstown Mayor Williams said the whole controversy had bubbled over. “(Liberty officials) approached us two to three months ago about JEDD agreements on Gypsy Lane and the Wal-Mart site,” Williams said. “Obviously, we were willing to work with them.” But Liberty Trustees said they talked to Youngstown’ finance director about establishing a JEDD. “Meetings with Youngstown were supposed to be exploratory only,” the Trustees said. “To my knowledge, we, as a board, did not discuss a JEDD in connection with Belmont Avenue.” In 2008, the superstore tug-of-war became nastier. Wal-Mart sent back the city of Youngstown’s Water Tap application unsigned. Mayor Jay Williams told the TV station, “They deleted a portion that said twenty five percent of jobs should go to the city of Youngstown. They deleted a portion, saying they’d be responsible for water costs during construction.” A Wal-Mart spokesman explained the company’s actions by saying, “Simply put, our position is we want the most qualified people working in our store and these people will come from the city, township, and surrounding area.” But the Mayor of Youngstown said the agreement he sent Wal-Mart in Liberty is the same one the city got signed by Wal-Mart in Austintown, and many other developers over the past two decades. “Wal-Mart decided to delete portions of the application and leave out portions of the application. We sent it back, telling them that was unacceptable,” Mayor Jay Williams stated. Liberty township’s Ungaro was in an uncomfortable position: he’s the former Mayor of Youngstown, and now the town Administrator for Liberty. He helped write the Water Tap application that Wal-Mart didn’t want to sign. “Here it is 2008 and they [Wal-Mart] don’t like it,” Ungaro said, siding with the retailer. “They’ve changed, and a lot of people changed over time, even corporations change. We gotta make it work. That’s all.” Mayor Williams insisted he was just trying to secure “jobs” for his constituents. “This is the same application that’s been used the last 20 years, even when Pat Ungaro was mayor.” The Trustee warned that if the Wal-Mart project did not get settled soon, Wal-Mart would just move to another community, and it would take years to get the Liberty Plaza make-over started again. Mayor Jay Williams claims he never threatened to hold up the Wal-Mart project, and said the water controversy was just a failure to communicate. Eventually, the politicians worked out the water issues — and the jobs issues — and the store will open sometime this August. The Youngstown Vindicator reports that when Wal-Mart opened up for job applicants this week, 2,800 people in the area applied for 325 full and part time jobs. “It’s a slow process,” said Wal-Mart’s store manager. Applicants have to fill out their job application online, and it takes as long as 45 minutes to complete. Wal-Mart would not tell the newspaper how much the jobs will pay, but they admitted that some of the people applying at Wal-Mart are displaced workers. Others are looking for a second income for their families, and still others are seeking part-time employment to supplement their income. “We’re excited about it,” said Liberty’s Administrator Ungaro. “I believe it will help stabilize businesses because of the traffic count.” He described businesses in his town as being ‘lost’ over the last 10 years. He said described Wal-Mart’s presence as “overwhelming positive” and said it will keep businesses area competitive. If they survive at all.
Wal-Mart says their new superstore will use 30% less energy than its standard superstore. It will use low-voltage, incandescent lighting, skylights and an automatic lighting system. Wal-Mart could have saved a lot of energy, and been more efficient in the siting of this new store if they had listened to local residents, and built a smaller building in a more appropriate location. As it stands, Ohio is now getting more Wal-Mart jobs, and less GM jobs. The loss of value in this trade has not been lost on Ohio Governor Ted Strickland. The Governor has met with GM to plead with the company to keep its current manufacturing capacity in the state. According to a spokesman for the Governor, he “remains committed to doing whatever is possible to keep GM jobs in Ohio.” When Liberty Trustee Jodi Stoyak ran for re-election in Liberty, she told voters, “The major issue in my race is bringing economic development to Liberty Township.” Wal-Mart became part of her economic development strategy. Readers are urged to call Trustee Stoyak at (330)759-1315 x 122 and leave the following message: “Trustee Stoyak, Please don’t describe Wal-Mart as a form of economic development. Most of its sales will come from existing businesses in town. Wal-Mart will increase your crime, your traffic, and your carbon emissions. You are concerned about sustainability, yet support a company that imports most of its wares by shipping and trucking them half way around the globe. The manager at Wal-Mart says he has 2,800 applicants for 325 jobs. How many of those ‘displaced workers’ are from GM? It is sign of the economic distress in Liberty that you are losing good jobs at GM, and getting in return Wal-Jobs. If you are looking for Wal-Mart to lead your economic recovery, you will be sorely disappointed. Retail follows growth, it does not lead it. Most of Wal-Mart’s 324 ‘new’ jobs are going to be transferred from existing merchants. Your town Administrator has no evidence that Wal-Mart will ‘stabilize’ anything in town. Trustee Stoyak, you ran for election on a campaign of economic development. You try telling those laid off GM workers that a Wal-Mart wage is your economic development strategy.”