Mega Wal-Marts crush business diversity

    There’s an important term in biology known as "biodiversity." In short, what it means is that when more species inhabit a given area, the more successful, healthy, and balanced that ecosystem is. The same is true of the business ecosystem known as Bellingham.
   Bellingham is an entrepreneurial city with an economy forged through the labors of its small businesses. Small business is the backbone of our economy. This is appropriate, healthy, and promotes economic diversity.
   It is not exactly news that huge Wal-Mart "superstores" do just the opposite; they flatten competition, erase longtime family-owned businesses from the landscape in the blink of an eye, and reduce that vital business "biodiversity" that keeps economies running smoothly.
   An argument is often made that Wal-Mart is the best choice going for low-wage families. It is true, Wal-Mart has forged incredibly profitable business alliances with manufacturers overseas, such as China, that make their price point for some items hard to beat. But what are we losing from the fabric of our business community to get a very low price on a Chinese-made sweater? How much are our family-owned businesses worth to us? We feel they are worth far more than the cost point of a low-cost sweatshirt made outside of Shanghai.
   Another argument is often made that business is all about competition; if somebody can do it better, let them. That’s all well and good, but the playing field is not level. Wal-Mart uses the fact that it pays startlingly low benefits to its workers as a way of both keeping prices low and profits high.
   Here’s one local example, pulled from a column in The Seattle Times: local grocer Brown & Cole pays health-insurance costs for 95 percent of its employees, including families and part timers (20 hours a week or more).
   Wal-Mart, on the other hand, insures about 45 percent of their employees, and a Wal-Mart memo from last October revealed that more than half of the children of their employees are on Medicaid — in other words, who is paying their benefits? We are, the taxpayers. In 2004 alone, John Q. Taxpayer paid more than $1.7 billion to take care of the Wal-Mart employees that the company chooses not to take care of. Their built-in policy of letting the states pay for their employees’ medical needs is one more cost that we feel our business community should not have to pay.
   We don’t want Wal-Mart to close. We know there are good people who work there who have nothing to do with the policies dictated by the corporate office.
   But in our opinion, an expansion of the current store hurts this community more than it helps it.

Off Beat
By Rik Dalvit



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