Wal-Mart has recently announced its plans to open stores in the blighted neighborhoods of urban centers reports Ylan Q. Mui in "Wal-Mart to Enter Urban Markets," reported today in The Washington Post. Wal-Marts attempts to open urban stores have been met with strong resistance in the past, especially from small business owners who felt they would not be able to compete with the mega-store.
To fight the backlash oft associated with the opening of a new store, Wal-Mart is pursuing a new strategy of growing "opportunity zones" alongside its new stores. In the words of Wal-Mart chief executive H. Lee Scott Jr., the zones would "help small businesses withstand competition with Wal-Mart by teaching them how to do business with the company, offering grants to benefit communities and featuring small businesses on radio ads played inside the store, among other things."
Excuse me if I sound a little skeptical, but Wal-Mart is going to help its competitors by teaching them to do business with Wal-Mart? What exactly does this mean? Are they going to "teach them" how to not sell the products that Wal-Mart sells? Teach them how to deal with not being their own bosses? Teach them how to become niche stores that Wal-Mart will then put out of business 5 years later when it exapnds into different product lines?
That said, though I enjoy Wal-Mart bashing as much as the next person, I think it's important to look at the possibilities this new expansion would bring to people living in Detroit (if Wal-Mart chooses to open a store here). The first thought is, more jobs closer to home. Not that these new jobs will come with health insurance or be far beyond minimum wage, but they do offer a steady form of employment for many people who previously had to travel outside of the city for work. The second benefit is the increased access to cheaper commercial goods and food that comes with larger stores and has evaded most inner-city citizens for a long time. However, unless WalMart opens up a fruit and vegetable section, it seems that it will be bringing the same junk food people can currently buy in bodegas and corner stores, albeit at a better price. Finally, there isn't much small business to be put out of business. Maybe this will bring more economic growth opportunity than it will stifle. Maybe.