The Enterprise Zone
Hoping to prove to residents that it is committed to the surrounding community, Wal-Mart announced last Thursday that it would start a Jobs and Opportunity Zones program on the West Side. The meeting was held at the newly opened Grandma Sally’s restaurant, 5225 W. Madison. Moderating and hosting the event was Wal-Mart Vice President of Operations Todd Libbra.

“We want to be part of the fabric of this community,” Libbra said. “We’re open to investing in communities that have been overlooked by other retailers. Where those businesses see difficulty, we see opportunity.

“Our jobs and Opportunity Zones initiative, “Libbra added, “is a commitment to reach beyond our stores to further engage the communities and offer an even greater economic boost to people and neighborhoods that Wal-Mart serves.”

Last April, Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott came to Chicago to announce the creation of the Wal-Mart Jobs and Opportunity Zones initiative. Wal-Mart will work to increase job creation and economic opportunity in surrounding neighborhoods by investing thousands of dollars in grants to local chambers of commerce and minority and women-owned businesses within these zones. Local store managers will also choose seven small businesses per quarter in each zone for “Small Business Spotlights,” which will include exposure in local newspaper advertising and free Wal-Mart store radio advertising.

Alderman Emma Mitts (37th Ward), speaking about the program, said, “Every day I get up [and] what motivates me is jobs. [Wal-Mart] had 15,000 applicants to apply for 450 jobs. Until we create jobs in our neighborhoods, we will never get rid of the social issues that we’re facing day to day. So to all the small businesses, as Wal-Mart continues to work with you, you just remember we need to continue to work with our community to help create jobs. I’ve often told Wal-Mart we need to make sure we advertise with our local newspapers, and include our local newspapers within this job opportunity zone is another plus. They work diligently in our community. Sometimes the only way our community knows what is going on is because of the stories they cover. I want to thank Wal-Mart for a big heart, but the small things are what really matters. I want to thank Wal-Mart and embrace them so we all can work together.”

Libbra then took questions:

AWN: How would businesses in the Austin community know about the program and who would they contact?

Libbra: Through the Austin Chamber of Commerce. We are partnering with the local chambers and these five businesses that were chosen by working with Camille [Lilly] and some of the local business leaders. That is exactly what we want them to do is to partner with Camille and the chamber.

AWN: I heard you mention you’re going to advertising these particular companies in the Wal-Mart network. If there is success in that, are you going to add other small businesses?

Libbra: Absolutely. This is going to be a quarter-by-quarter program. We’re going to choose different businesses every quarter. And we’re going to focus on different businesses every quarter, again partnering with the chambers.

AWN: Now will that just be shown in the Wal-Mart on North Avenue, or will that go to all the stores in the area?

Libbra: We really haven’t decided the particulars on that one yet, but it’s going to be stores in the area. It will not just be the store on North Avenue. It will be several stores in the territory.

AWN: Ald. Mitts mentioned the local newspapers. How do local newspapers keep a relationship with Wal-Mart since advertising is important?

Libbra: We would appreciate it if everybody would work with Camille and her team and the local chambers.

Mary Denson (Windy): Will the advertising budget for those local newspapers come out of the $300,000?

Libbra: No that is actually separate. The $300,000 in grants we are announcing here today is for the local organizations.

AWN asked Ald. Mitts how long they have been working on the opportunity zone. “We’ve been working on [it] for probably six months,” she stated.

Camille Lilly, president of the Austin Chamber of Commerce told AWN: “Today was our kick-off announcement-every quarter there will be 5-7 businesses identified that Wal-Mart will be working with and maintaining their relationships throughout the year. So we will have a total of seven times four-28-that they will be working with on an annual basis. Many of the issues small businesses are addressing is job training, customer service, expansion, credit repair-there is a list of all the areas that small business needs. So the chamber is looking to bring those resources and meet those needs of those small businesses.

The five companies selected for this kick-off are: B & S Hardware, Active Auto Parts, Dandridge Hardware Center, Dream Bag, and Curlie’s Bakery. These companies will be featured in Wal-Mart store advertising, as well as in Wal-Mart paid-for ads in local newspapers.