Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Wal-Mart’s Urban Agenda

In 1984ish parlance, Wal-Mart’s CEO Lee Scott announced yesterday that the company would create Jobs and Opportunity Zones in “socially deprived” neighborhoods, hoping to lessen the opposition to its urban expansion. According to the Financial Times these zones would:

include identifying local businesses to be featured in free local newspaper advertising and on Wal-Mart's instore radio broadcasts, as well as organising business development workshops aimed at exploring opportunities created by the presence of the retailer.

Wal-Mart said it would donate $500,000 to local chambers of commerce in the zones, with a focus on helping local minority groups and women.
Wal-Mart’s proliferation in urban areas like New York City will no doubt result in the destruction of numerous minority union jobs and countless minority-owned small businesses, as can be seen by this Brennen Center report. What good is free advertising and workshops when a huge chunk of your business evaporates? As for the money to local chambers of commerce, these bodies are pro-Wal-Mart to begin with because they are not generally comprised of mom and pop retailers but real estate firms, insurance brokers and other such non-competitive businesses.

WakeupWalMart makes a good point about Scott’s statement that the stores will be specifically located in high crime / environmentally-tainted areas:

Wal-Mart says it will build the stores in neighborhoods with high crime or unemployment rates, on sites that are environmentally contaminated, or in vacant buildings or malls in need of revitalization. Of course, new Wal-Mart stores would violently exacerbate existing problems of crime, poverty, environmental contamination, and urban blight in these areas.
That is exactly right considering Wal-Mart’s burden on police forces nationwide and its sub par record vis-à-vis pollution.

On the DMI blog, Adrianne Shropshire rightly suggests that Wal-Mart's goal is to stifle grassroots business opposition from groups like ours and that it fails to address greater issues surrounding poverty in these neighborhoods:

"Urban" areas with "high unemployment" and "high crime"? Well my-my, Wal-Mart, who on earth could you be referring to? I am disgusted to no end by this company trying to push their poverty-wage jobs on already poor communities of color and then looking for thank yous. The Brennan Center report also sites two other important stats, 1. communities experience job loss, not gain, when Wal-Mart enters and, 2. poverty actually increases in communities when big-daddy arrives on the scene pimpin' his low-wage, no benefit jobs. I don't think that one of the policy solutions recommended for addressing the disconnection of Black men from the workforce was "increase the number of jobs that keep families in poverty".
A final point is that these zones are in the same areas that groups like NY Industrial Retention Network are trying to preserve for better paying manufacturing jobs. The NYIRN would argue that by rezoning this manufacturing space for commercial use you are preventing the preservation / expansion of a sector that has family-supporting wages and benefits.

In the Financial Times piece, the Alliance’s Matt Lipsky responds to this PR tactic of emphasizing how Wal-Mart will create jobs and revitalize neighborhoods:

Matt Lipsky of the Neighborhood Retail Alliance, which campaigns against Wal-Mart opening in New York, said the argument that its stores promoted economic development overlooked their impact on the wider community.

"Our feeling is that the collateral damage, such as the impact on better paying competitors, is going to outweigh any benefits they might bring into an area," he said.