Wal-Mart officials say store will fill void

Wal-Mart officials say store will fill void B. John Bisio, regional director, community affairs from Wal-Mart�s corporate office in Bentonville, AK, addresses a small audience of Vermillion citizens Tuesday in the Vermillion High School Auditorium. by David Lias They came with blueprints and drawings. They explained what their firm has in store for the Vermillion community.

And they left feeling a bit pleasantly surprised.

Wal-Mart officials are used to facing a bit of friction, especially from retail businesses, when they visit a community and announce plans to build a store.

B. John Bisio, regional director, community affairs, from Wal-Mart's corporate office in Bentonville, AR, was asked by a Vermillion citizen if there was anything the business community could do to help the large retail chain as it prepares to construct a 155,000 square foot SuperCenter here.

He paused, then smiled.

"Boy, we'd be open to any kind of workshop or seminar, or even a mixer to introduce our local district manager," Bisio said. "We're open to all sorts of ideas ? I appreciate the offer.

"I would encourage our business partners to look at what we do, and see if they could take anything away from that," he said. "We'd be happy to have some dialogue with our business partners."

Bisio, Ross Henson, an architect with the engineering firm of Buescher Frankenberg Associates, Inc., Washington, MO, and Murl E. Miller, a Yankton attorney for Wal-Mart, described in detail what the giant retailer's plans are for Vermillion at a public meeting held Tuesday evening in the Vermillion High School auditorium.

The Wal-Mart project, Miller said, is designed to further the objectives of the community.

"One of the things that has driven this particular project has been the ingenuity, the leadership of this particular community, their hard work and their spirit," he said.

The Vermillion store will be located on 25 acres at the corner of Princeton Street and Highway 50. The 24-hour store will be about twice the size of the current Wal-Mart store in Yankton.

Bisio said Wal-Mart is attempting to be more responsive to citizens across the country. He admits there may be some misconceptions about how the store may affect a city, and part of his role is to do a better job of communicating.

"This is a SuperCenter that will feature about 36 different general merchandise departments," he said. "It will feature a lawn and garden department, apparel, electronics, health and beauty as well as a general merchandise department."

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The store will also sell groceries, and will house tenant space for other retailers, such as a bank, a fast-food restaurant, or an optometrist.

"The whole impetus behind this project is knowing that today there are already a good number of Vermillion and Vermillion-area customers who are already shopping in Wal-Mart stores," Bisio said.

He said by studying check transactions, Wal-Mart was able to determine that people in the Vermillion area are spending approximately $10 million at Wal-Mart stores and at nearby Sam's Clubs.

"We realized we weren't doing a very good job of providing service or convenience to our customers in Vermillion who are already shopping at Wal-Mart," Bisio said.

Wal-Mart, he added, will help Vermillion recapture their lost sales and tax revenues.

"We're going to create economic opportunities. We're also creating competition along the way," Bisio said.

He noted that Vermillion's retailers are doing a good job serving a variety of niches. "We (Wal-Mart) can't be everything to everyone. People from Vermillion who are shopping at Wal-Mart are also shopping at stores in Vermillion."

Construction of the the SuperCenter is scheduled to begin next year, with an opening date in the spring of 2006.

The new Wal-Mart will create about 350 new jobs for Vermillion. "About 80 to 90 percent of them will come from the Vermillion trade area," Bisio said. A full-time employee, or associate, as Wal-Mart calls them, works at least 36 hours per week. SuperCenters in university communities like Vermillion may have a higher number of part-time associates, because students need the flexible hours.

"With those jobs, you have a very competitive wage," Bisio said. "Our national wage across the U.S. is about $10 per hour. Of course we have some people who make a little bit more than that, and some people who make a little bit less."

Both full- and part-time associates are eligible for a broad list of benefits, he said, from 401K plans to health and dental insurance.

"We estimate we will pay $720,000 annually in city sales tax during the first year, and we expect that to grow incrementally. Our real estate will also pay $76,000 annually in taxes, and that's used for local services," he said.

Ralph Brown, an economics professor at the University of South Dakota, has determined a major national retailer would exert an annual economic impact on Vermillion most likely in the $30 million range. Vermillion could expect to see additional taxes ranging from $240,000 to $1.12 million annually, according to his study.

"A $30 million turnover would attract all types of businesses," Miller said. "We had businesses who were here and left. It wasn't that they didn't want to stay, but they didn't have enough economic drive to keep patronage. They were losing customers to area communities."

Miller said the SuperCenter will complement business development in other parts of the city.

And it will help Vermillion be better noticed by the 13,000 people that drive past the city every day.

"You aren't seeing the death of downtown. You are seeing a renaissance of professional services, quaint shops and restaurants which fit the buildings of 1,200 to 2,000 square feet," he said. "Other businesses have moved to Cherry Street and Highway 50, which draws people into the community. The new (Newcastle/Vermillion) bridge offers a regional shopping hook. How do you draw customers into town and so they stay into town?"

Wal-Mart officials are working with the state Department of Transportation on highway issues, Henson said. The Wal-Mart area won't require a traffic signal, he said. A landscape berm will help preserve a pleasant view for neighbors and prevent headlights from shining into homes, he said.

The Vermillion store will provide a more focused trade area and help serve customers better in neighboring Wal-Mart stores, Bisio said. Wal-Mart officials have used experiences in other college towns and resort areas to prepare for the shift in the customer base when USD is not in session, he said.

"We are increasing sales, which is stretching the trade areas across the board. We anticipate market growth, and we see this (Vermillion store) as a shift," he said. "To us, this restructuring is how to meet the needs of our customers and create convenience and economic opportunities where they don't have a presence. Other businesses, like large retailers, have followed Wal-Mart, and local businesses could see new opportunities."

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