Citizen torn by Wal-Mart’s consequences

Citizen torn by Wal-Mart's consequences
Is Vermillion's Wal-Mart "good" or "bad"? I'll admit: I'm torn. I wish the answer were simple, but like many things in life, the answer is complicated.

I have serious concerns with Wal-Mart as a corporation. The criticisms leveled against it appear well deserved. Its effects upon competitors are undeniable: through economies of scale, it's able to sell some items for less than cost and certainly for less than local retailers could sell them.

Some argue that's simply good business: may the lowest prices win. Additionally, Vermillion will receive substantial tax revenue: 2 percent of Wal-Mart's sales tax, plus its property taxes. But, others legitimately point out that communities as a whole lose when local businesses fail.

And, while Wal-Mart's corporate treatment of employees has drawn criticism from unions and employee-advocate groups (from concerns that Wal-Mart health care packages are unaffordable for many low-wage workers and families, forcing some to rely upon taxpayer-funded Medicaid, to charges of sexism), locally Wal-Mart management is very concerned with the welfare of its employees and really does appreciate them and wish to provide opportunities for them.

Local Wal-Mart employees are making more than typical entry-level wages in Vermillion. There are Wal-Mart employees who have health insurance who've not had it before.

My own children reflect my mixed feelings about the new Wal-Mart: one of them was among its first customers, while another one was among the protestors. I appreciate the conviction of the protestors (who donned yellow "sad" faces to counter the Wal-Mart "happy" face symbol, and held signs with names of area businesses they fear will close as a result of Wal-Mart's presence): they're standing up for something they believe in, voicing some very legitimate concerns about the Wal-Mart corporation, and forcing the rest of us to reflect upon what it means to live in a global economy.

Choices have consequences. By shopping at Wal-Mart, I'm becoming part of a global economy that relies upon the work of extremely low-paid foreign workers and upon a seriously disturbing foreign trade imbalance. As participants in this global economy, we in the U.S. can't expect to maintain our dominance and high standard of living indefinitely: things will need to even out.

The morning of the Grand Opening, when the protestors were standing in cold temperatures outside Wal-Mart, a Wal-Mart employee came out to the them and offered them cups of warm coffee, saying he knew they must be cold standing there. What a kind gesture! And what a perfect illustration of the challenge our local Wal-Mart poses.

Wal-Mart is both a global corporate entity and now, for us, a local entity. While I don't particularly like Wal-Mart, the corporation, I value and respect the individuals who make up our local Wal-Mart.

Will I shop at our local Wal-Mart? And, if so, will I feel hypocritical about it? The answer to both questions is "yes".

But, I will also make a concerted effort to continue to shop at other local businesses. That may mean paying a slightly higher price for some goods or services, but that's because I value the presence of a variety of businesses in our community.

I will also continue to make efforts to live more simply, thus reducing my dependence upon unfairly cheap goods.

For some constructive criticism of Wal-Mart's corporate approach, I encourage you to read Adam Hanft's "10 Steps to Turn Around Walmart" ( ).

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