Brad's response to the Wal-Mart/Meijer invitation is printed in this week's Antrim County News. While it wasn't written on behalf of ISLAND, we certainly share the sentiment, and so are reprinting it here. It's 800 words, so not exactly a quick read, but came in 200 words shy of the previous letter from the County Planning Commission that supports a big box. Kudos to the Antrim County News for allowing space for this conversation, before it blows up into the political bickering and lawsuit fodder typical of these conflicts. Comments encouraged!
To the Editor,
Hundreds of communities around the US have discovered, often too late, the high cost of bringing a big box store into town.
I know I'm not the only one who has been feeling uneasy about inviting a Meijer or Wal-Mart to Antrim County. I can understand why Barb Bradford finds the idea attractive, because we face very real problems --folks in Antrim County either struggling with unemployment or who are working hard to make a good life for their families. However we should consider some serious concerns before we make an irreversible decision:
1.) A 2006 study from the non-partisan Public Policy Institute found that a Wal-Mart store produces, on average, a net loss (that's right -- a loss) of 180 retail jobs. These losses, spread throughout a community and over time, are never as visible as the hundreds of people seen donning smocks on opening day at the new store, but are real, and quickly felt.
2.) Multiple studies also find that these new jobs (each replacing 1.5 old jobs) are lower paying and provide fewer benefits than the jobs they replace -- another net loss for our communities.
3.) A study in Maine compared the percentage of shopping dollars that are then re-spent in the county and state by both big box stores (14.1%) and local businesses (53.3%). That difference, totaling $23 million dollars, is equal to 500 new jobs. When you shop at Wal-Mart, your hard-earned cash hops on the fast track to China.
4.) Big box stores make big payments to out-of-state subsidiaries (often as rent), post the "losses" and avoid paying state taxes. Local businesses don't have sophisticated legal and financial structures to help them dodge taxes, creating an unfair competitive advantage to the big stores and less tax revenue for our state.
5.) Another study: Big box stores give four times less of their income to charity (including local schools, 4-H, churches and clubs) than locally owned businesses.
6.) Michigan has around one million square feet of enormous abandoned buildings; Wal-Mart alone has almost 250 nationwide. They depress property values, blight small towns and increase crime. Very few towns have been able to put these spaces to any good use once the big box has jumped ship.
7.) Those so-called low prices we're looking for? Big boxes start with low prices to drive competition out of business, and then raise them. Many prices are connected to slave-wages in foreign countries, and those prices are rapidly climbing because of the high price of oil!
8.) Sam Walton doesn't live here. He (or any one of the millions of shareholders of big box stores) has no reason to care about our schools, our woods, our water, our wild leeks, morels, sugar maples and whitetails. He has no reason to earn one dollar less in order to protect our community resources. Not true, though, for the business owner who sits next to you at the pew, park or ballgame.
9.) More importantly, Wal-Mart is the 25th largest economy in the world, larger than most countries on Earth. To imagine that a Wal-Mart is concerned about the quality of life in Antrim County, Michigan is absurd. A juggernaut like Wal-Mart, tied in many ways more closely to China than to the US, will not "sharpen" the local economy; it will decimate it.
10.) Do we want to become like Acme? Do we want Meijer or another big box meddling with local politics? Funding recalls? Funding smear campaigns? Suing townships? Hundreds of other examples predict the future: this will end up in a fight. Many of our best community-minded folks will stop the work they're doing with our schools, libraries, art organizations, churches, farm markets and child care center to fight a big box (as in Charlevoix and Acme). What will the cost of this distraction - perhaps a ten-year fight - be to our other community programs?
No big box can create the community our kids want to come home to. Here's what will: a unique place to live, filled with a strong network of mutually supportive local businesses (large and small), connected to family farms, churches, schools and local organizations, supporting a downtown-based street life, vitally infused with art, music and an authentic sense of community; wisely managing our natural resources, encouraging fellowship and neighborly interactions and more concerned with sustainability than convenience. How about we find local leaders willing to work towards that? Let's support the businesses we have!
I have no doubt that Barb Bradford is doing what she thinks is best for the county, but let's have this debate and get all the facts on the table before we open a door we can't close.
Thank you for an opportunity to respond,