Volume 12, Issue 29 ~ July 15-21, 2004
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The Big-Box Bully That Doesn’t Say No

Wal-Mart’s power plays in Calvert County bear close watching across the Chesapeake region by all who worry about the well-being of their communities.

Dunkirk and Prince Frederick are far from alone in becoming expansion targets of the world’s largest corporation. Across the country, communities are grappling with Wal-Mart’s predatory practices, its shabby treatment of workers, its damage to small businesses and its cynical manipulation of tax laws.

In Calvert, the Arkansas-based company wants to both build a new store in Dunkirk and expand its Prince Frederick outlet into one of those massive “super stores.”

Calvert County, meanwhile, is in the midst of rewriting its zoning to prevent big-box development from gridlocking roads, sapping the vitality of the local economy and rooting out its local character.

The massive chain has organized a campaign, fronted by citizen spokespeople, to pre-empt county planning so that the company can build what it wants, wherever and whenever. In other words, Wal-Mart wants to shape the future of Calvert County to its own commercial needs.

The company’s disrespect for communities knows no bounds. In California, Wal-Mart went so far earlier this year as to try to circumvent all local regulations by forcing its building plans onto an election ballot. Wisely, the company was sent packing.

Supporters of Wal-Mart note the company’s cheap prices and its one-stop convenience. We would hope in Calvert County, people also would examine the company’s devastating effects on communities, which are not so immediately noticeable as low prices but ultimately ruinous.

One concern is the undeniable damage Wal-Mart causes to locally owned stores. When Wal-Mart comes to town, the American Dream of owning your own business often becomes impossible to achieve.

The company likes to trumpet its positive effect on the tax base. But according to a study in May Washington-based Good Jobs First, the company has benefitted from more than $1 billion in state and local taxpayer-underwritten subsidies.

The study also notes that Wal-Mart’s wages are so low that many of its part-time workers must turn to government for food stamps, health care or the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Let’s not forget that the widow and children of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton have a net worth of over $20 billion each in part due to public subsidies. They are, says Forbes magazine, the richest family on earth.

We’re hoping Chesapeake Country doesn’t let drain its wealth to make them richer.

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.