Thursday, October 29, 2009

Friends (and not) of WalMart

Arrogance is an unsightly attitude observed by others. Actually, Arrogance's most closely related sibling is Ignorance. Arrogance and Ignorance are also closely related to the Evanlelistas, the Far Right and Republican Party!

People's attitude toward WalMart Comes to mind. A town in Oregon decided to challenge the challengers.

CORNELIUS,Oregon -- Walmart won't open here for nearly a year, but a few weeks ago, the city manager sent out an enthused e-mail: "I think you can tell all your friends now that they can shop for the Christmas holidays at Walmart Supercenter in 2010!"

Walmart doesn't usually get that kind of greeting from Oregon cities.

In recent years, metro cities from Hillsboro to Gresham have fought -- and defeated -- proposed Walmarts. The superstore drives out local businesses and increases traffic, opponents say. In those cities, anti-Walmart activists rallied in droves. Hundreds showed up at council meetings, protesting until the superstore gave up.

Not so in Cornelius. In the four years since Walmart first announced its interest in building a store there, only one group -- Cornelius First -- has formed to protest. Its ranks were slight, and in 2006, the group disbanded after losing a state land use appeal.

Since then, Walmart's Cornelius plans have sailed through. When construction crews broke ground in early October, no one protested.

The difference, city leaders say, is Cornelius needs it more.

Jobs, community improvement, retail ... what's not to like?

Cornelius calls itself Oregon's family community.

But, City Manager David Waffle says, "All our parents work out of town." The city has the longest daily work commute of any metro city -- 29 miles.

Nearly 75 percent of Cornelius' assessed tax value is residential; that means residents -- through property taxes -- shoulder a larger share than usual of city funding.

Economically speaking, it is a state-certified "severely distressed" city and has one of the highest poverty rates in the metro area.

So when Walmart representatives arrived, promising increased tax revenue, 300 new jobs and millions for street improvements, Cornelius residents rejoiced.

"The mood is pretty fantastic," said City Manager Dave Waffle. "(The town is) very eager."

Waffle said the city does have a few naysayers, but in the past year, hundreds of people have called him to ask, "When is Walmart coming?"

"I get my hair cut across the street from the proposed site," he said, "And when I go in there, they always get excited and ask me about the progress so they can tell all their customers. People come in there asking them when it's coming."

Never mind that two of the city's larger stores are a Fred Meyer and a Grande Foods grocery store.

"That's just good competition, and people deserve to have choices," Waffle said. "Our residents are mostly lower and middle income, and they can really benefit from Walmart's low prices."

Walmart is also a destination, says Jose Orozco, an Intel engineer and a member of Cornelius' planning commission. Orozco writes a blog detailing even the most minute details of Walmart's arrival.

Since starting the blog in February, he's heard from people across the state who say they'd drive long distances to go to a Walmart. Orozco himself often drives 45 minutes to McMinnville to shop at Walmart. The same isn't true, he says, of Fred Meyer stores, which proliferate throughout the metro area.

But, Forest Grove City Manager Michael Sykes adds, "I'm happy for them. They're very excited, and we hope it does bring the positive benefits that they're anticipating."

-- Casey Parks

No comments: