Local vs. Super-Centers in Sonoma County
Local vs. Super-Centers
By Will Shonbrun
The Rohnert Park City Council decided to approve a proposal by Wal-Mart to expand its Rohnert Park store by more than 40,000 square feet, becoming a super-center selling both groceries and retail. Rohnert Park’s Planning Commission voted to turn down Wal-Mart’s proposal in April, but the company appealed the decision to the city council…and won.
There are pros and cons regarding this massive project though the negatives far outweigh the positives. What can be said in favor of the proposal, and has been said in a number of letters to the Press Democrat, is that it will provide a place for inexpensive foods and goods to many people on very limited incomes. It is also said that it will provide more jobs in the community though these are very low-paying ones, most with no health benefits.
Counter to the argument for jobs gained is the potential for jobs lost by local businesses that might well be forced to close; good jobs paying decent wages and providing benefits, such as those at Pacific Market, Oliver’s and other groceries, and the 50-60 local and regional businesses that would be affected by their closure. Just a few of these local suppliers are Amy’s Organics, Alvarado Street Bakery, Wildwood Natural Foods, Redwood Hill Farms, Kozlowski Farms and La Tortilla Factory. Nationally Wal-Mart has wiped out thousands of local businesses and their suppliers leading to an urban decay in neighborhood shopping centers where stores like Pacific Market are the anchor and draw for other small businesses.
Therefore the potential for jobs lost would far surpass jobs gained. Finally, in favor of the expansion it’s argued that it will increase tax revenue for the city, but this is debatable. Most of the expansion will be for nontaxable food items, and what the super-center might provide in increased tax revenue may well be offset by decreased tax money from affected local businesses.
Wal-Mart has become a retail behemoth by keeping costs low: wages, health benefits, reducing full timers to part time, keeping unions out and buying cheap goods from foreign sources. Giants like Wal-Mart have closed tens of thousands of local independent businesses nationally, including pharmacies, hardware stores, bookstores, groceries and other retailers. According to a University of Missouri report that examined 1,749 counties where Wal-Mart located and the resulting loss of jobs were taken into account, “The superstores contributed just 30 jobs on average” Furthermore, most of the dollars that go to Wal-Mart stores leave the local economy. A policy study authored by Stacy Mitchell, a senior researcher with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, cites a report by the firm Civic Economics, which found that “…every $100 spent at an independent store generates $23 more in local economic activity than $100 spent at a chain.”
In addition, local businesses tend to be much more community involved than large out-of-state chains when it comes to charitable contributions and participation in community services and neighborhood organizations. Profits generated from Wal-Marts go back to corporate headquarters in Arkansas, whereas locally generated business revenue stays primarily in the community.
There has been a strong movement in Sonoma County and other Northern California regions to “shop local and eat local,” taking advantage of the many small businesses that produce local foods, goods and services. A perfect example of this is the growing popularity of weekly farmers’ markets in practically all of the county’s nine cities.
Local businesses are supporters of schools, community organizations, community projects and non-profits, as well as the primary suppliers of local jobs. Buying from these businesses keeps the money circulating in the local economy, greatly serves the community’s needs and means a good deal less driving longer distances, which translates to a healthier environment.
Will Shonbrun is a freelance journalist in Sonoma. To view more of his writing, visit http://shonbrunreport.blogspot.com/