The dilemma posed by Wal-Mart

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Some criticize Carson City because of its low number of commercial giants, but I recently met a woman from the East Coast who drove through the city and was enchanted by all the local shops and the beautiful historic buildings. She didn't mind that (at that time) there wasn't a Best Buy, Kohl's or a Wal-Mart. She's looking to relocate West, and that first impression has put Carson City on the top of her list.

She's right.

I spent last weekend in Ridgecrest, Calif., and I was struck by how ugly that town is. OK, that's a little unfair. Ridgecrest is in the middle of the Mojave desert beside a naval base. Carson City has beautiful mountains and trees. Ridgecrest also is in a funny economic situation. It has retail giants, such as Albertsons, Wal-Mart, Starbucks and Blockbuster video, but it has few notable local places. The one (of two) local Mexican restaurants we found was packed with a lunch time rush, but it was a tiny place with not a whole lot of character. We took our lunch out because there wasn't a table for us to sit at.

Carson City has many local restaurants and shops that stand out on their own because of character, quality and location. We can easily recommend a restaurant to a friend.

I told this East Coast woman, who is both environmentally and socially conscious, that Wal-Mart jumped ship about three years ago, but a new supercenter was opening soon. (It opened Wednesday.)

"That's too bad," she said.

Is it really? Our political leaders tell us that Wal-Mart brings hundreds of jobs (and it does), with good pay (that's debatable, because Wal-Mart releases its average wage for the entire state, and of course wages are going to be more in Las Vegas, where the cost of living is higher). This Wal-Mart is expected to put $1 million in sales tax revenue into the city coffers.

Wal-Mart can bolster local specialty stores. Pat Conroy, who recently shuttered his Carson City store, JJ's Ear Candy, told me that stores such as Wal-Mart and Kmart drove customers to him because they didn't carry smaller names and labels. And big-box store employees had little knowledge about music, so those serious about their music consumption came to him first, rather than an 18-year-old Wal-Mart associate.

Conroy closed his store, he said, because of the changing climate of the music industry, not because of the competition with big-box stores. But the music industry is changing because it's marketing more toward big-box stores, rather than the little guy. So, indirectly, Wal-Mart did help put him out of business.

A politician in Fallon once told me that it is far better to have the Wal-Mart in your community, rather than to be the community next door to the Wal-Mart. Company officials recently announced that a supercenter will be built in Fernley, which will undoubtedly change the face of that bedroom community.

So it seems this dilemma doesn't have a clear black/white answer. Yes, some stores suffer because of a Wal-Mart. But the basis of our society is weighted upon the competitive market. If you can't keep up - good-bye. Whose fault is that?

Nevada embraces Wal-Mart, unlike our neighbor to the West, and that comes with certain perks. Storey County will soon have a 1-million-square-foot distribution center at Tahoe Reno Industrial Center. The economic impact of that is staggering. That's 500 jobs and a projected $50 million contribution to the local economy.

But what types of jobs are those?

Recently, the world learned how a corporation such as Wal-Mart works to save billions on health-care costs. An internal memo from a Wal-Mart executive that discussed ways that the corporation can limit spending on health-care benefits was recently leaked to the press. The New York Times reported that the memo recommended hiring more part-time workers and wooing younger, healthier associates, rather than those who are more likely to incur large health-care expenses. The memo also makes suggestions on how the corporation can improve its image, which is badly tarnished from critical attacks on its wages and health coverage.

It isn't surprising that this corporate giant would want to clean up its public image. But it isn't spin that's going to do that; it has to be legitimate health care changes that benefit both the worker and the company. And, as many business professionals know, that's a hard compromise to make, especially if the corporation is known for aggressively discouraging its employees from unionizing.

Increasing health-care costs are a national economic priority. We have chosen a certain health-care system in this country, and it shouldn't come as a surprise to any astute business leader that those costs will continue to rise.

The media all too eagerly lap up the spin, rather than investigate the plan and implementation.

To shop at Wal-Mart, or not to shop at Wal-Mart? That is the question. But I don't think the answer is to demonize the corporate giant. We build the aquarium to fit the sea monster, and then we get angry at the monster for getting too big and eating all the other fish.

Wal-Mart works because it's an affordable place for our lower- and middle-income residents. We cannot scoff at that. But everyone shops at Wal-Mart for a simple reason: the general store is obsolete. There are simply some things you get at Wal-Mart because you can't get them anywhere else. Our cities have progressed beyond the mom-and-pop general store.

So the majority of consumers vote yes on big-box stores.

But the wonderful thing about living in a free society is that the minority has the right to sway public opinion.

Co-op America, a national nonprofit that educates people about promoting corporate responsibility, started a campaign to help consumers across the country say "no" to Wal-Mart this holiday season.

On its Web site, Co-op America is asking consumers to sign a pledge, which says: "I've taken a pledge to not buy any gifts from Wal-Mart this holiday season. It's my way of telling Wal-Mart that it's time to start paying workers fair wages, providing adequate health care, valuing local communities, and treating the planet with respect-like many other companies do."

"Wal-Mart continues to pay its workers less than a living wage, which makes it necessary for the United States government to spend $1.5 billion in federal tax dollars providing basic needs like food stamps and public housing to Wal-Mart employees," said Erin Gorman, program director at Co-op America. "The company also continues to build and build with an estimated 3,131 supercenters by 2010, creating more suburban sprawl and displacing local grocery stores and other businesses across the country."

Co-op America's action coincides with the premiere of the new film "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of a Low Price" on Nov. 13.

Co-op America directs consumers to the National Green Pages,, a resource where socially and environmentally responsible gifts can be found.

The companies listed in the National Green Pages are screened by the organization. Co-op America will keep the "No Wal-Mart Pledge" running throughout the holiday season.

For more information on the pledge, visit or call 1-800-58GREEN.

Irwin Union Bank and Trust Co. recently promoted several employees in its Carson City market.

Heather Anderson was promoted to bank officer. She joined the bank in 2003 as branch manager of the Carson City office. Anderson will continue to oversee the daily branch operations and assist clients with their banking needs.

Warren Heinrich was promoted to vice president-commercial lender. He joined the bank in 2003 as assistant vice president-portfolio manager, and was promoted to commercial lender last year. He is responsible for assisting a wide variety of business clients with their commercial borrowing and other financial services needs in the Carson City area.

William F. Fergus was promoted to vice president-private banker and deposit-relationship manager. He joined the bank in October 2003. He is responsible for assisting a wide variety of commercial clients with their commercial deposit and other financial services needs in Carson City and surrounding communities.

- Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at or 881-1212.


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