Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s chief executive announced Tuesday that 10 of the retail giant’s newly built stores will be part of an initiative to support local “mom and pop” businesses in urban areas.
The company’s CEO Lee Scott visited the site of Wal-Mart’s first Chicago location in Austin on the West Side Tuesday, announcing that it will be one of the anchors for the first “Wal-Mart Job and Opportunity Zone.”
The “Wal-Mart Jobs and Opportunity Zones” is a nationwide initiative, Scott said.
Under the program, Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, will offer local businesses financial grants, free advertising for those businesses within the Wal-Mart store, and training on how to survive with the retailer giant in town.
“This is a commitment to reach beyond our stores, to further engage the community, and to offer an even greater economic boost to people and neighborhoods that need Wal-Mart the most,” said Scott.
He added that Wal-Mart will assist small businesses in obtaining newspaper advertising, and the company will feature free radio ads for local businesses during in-store broadcasts at its new locations.
Scott added that Wal-Mart would designate 10 of its new locations as a Wal-Mart Job and Opportunity Zone. The Austin Wal-Mart, scheduled for a late summer opening, is among the chain’s new stores to offer the program.
Known for constructing it’s U.S. stores in rural areas and suburbs, the Austin store, currently under construction at 4650 W. North Avenue on a 150,00 square foot block of land, is among the new stores being built within city limits and in blighted urban areas.
Scott also announced Tuesday that Wal-Mart will build 50 new stores in urban areas with high rates of crime and unemployment, and on sites known to be environmentally contaminated, with vacant buildings or near malls in need of revitalizing.
The initiative will focus on engaging local businesses and communities in an effort to stimulate economic conditions within the neighborhoods, Scott said.
The new locations, he said, are expected to create between 15,000 to 25,000 jobs. Scott said Wal-Mart would announce the construction of nine new stores over the next few months.
One component of Wal-Mart’s initiative involves donating $500,000 to local chambers of commerce in each of the 10 designated zones. Scott promised that Wal-Mart would work with the chambers to utilize the funds in ways that have the most impact on small businesses.
“For small businesses, Wal-Mart is a positive influence,” Scott said.
Staunch critics of the mega retailer, however, might disagree. Union groups opposed to what some refer to as “The Wal-Mart Invasion” into local communities has accused the chain of underpaying its workers and offering minimal benefits.
Critics also charge that Wal-Mart’s move into urban areas is partly due to the company having already blanketed rural and suburban communities with its mega stores.
According to its company website, Wal-Mart has more than 5,000 stores in the United States and throughout the world, employing more than 1.6 million workers.
According to Forbes.com, Wal-Mart made more than $312 billion in sales in 2005, and racked up a little more than $11 billion in profits. Wal-Mart claims to serve an average of 138 million shoppers a week. Sam’s Club, named after Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, is also part of the company’s retail family.
The Arkansas-based company won approval for the West Side store in 2004 in a contentious 25-15 City Council vote.
Scott announced the “Wal-Mart Job and Opportunity Zone” initiative Tuesday at the Newspaper Association of America’s annual convention held this year in Chicago.
During his speech, Scott, who was the guest speaker, compared Wal-Mart’s commitment to the community with that of the newspaper industry.
“Both Wal-Mart and newspapers know we have a responsibility to our communities,” Scott said.
Terry Dean contributed to this story