Is Wal-Mart that bad for Austin?

Published 10:16 am Thursday, July 17, 2008

The wait is over, folks. The new Wal-Mart is open in Austin.

Shoppers packed the store Wednesday to take a peek at one of the biggest retailers in the area.

There probably isn’t one business that stirs as much controversy as Big Blue (actually, this one is a tan color). Little towns, big cities, Midwest, South, East, West — all communities face the same questions from business owners and citizens.

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How will this affect the little guy? What will happen to our downtown? Are those rumors about how they treat their employees true?

Let’s face the facts here in Austin: people are leaving to shop elsewhere. Lots of people. To the Wal-Mart in Albert Lea, to Rochester, to the Twin Cities, to Mason City. Businesses are not flocking to this community, and people aren’t either, for that matter.

Whether you like Wal-Mart or not is not really the issue. It’s that there are people who do, and there are also people who need jobs. You can’t deny that more than 300 new jobs is a good thing.

Yes, Wal-Mart does bring other businesses; three new strip malls will be built within a year of Wal-Mart opening. And as for the downtown, most of those businesses provide a niche that Wal-Mart does not. Downtown will survive.

A city of 24,000 people (give or take a few) needs more. It must provide for the people who live here and may potentially want to live here. And as one of the larger cities in southern Minnesota, we must also serve as a center for the smaller rural communities as well.

You don’t have to shop at Wal-Mart. You don’t have to work at Wal-Mart. But our forecast sees a brighter economic future for Austin, and for that, Wal-Mart may be one contributing factor.