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2005-08-06
Richfield, WI. Cabela’s Big Box Wants $10 Million In Welfare Payments

The low price of big box stores keeps rising. This week, Cabela's, which bills itself as the world's largest outdoor outfitter, headquartered in Sidney, Nebraska, asked the Washington County, Wisconsin Board of supervisors for $10 million in financial assistance to close their deal to buy 60 acres of farmland to build a 170,000 s.f. store on land in the towns of Richfield and Polk. The County Supervisors did not warm up to the idea, which calls for taking $500,000 from the county's general fund and a $4 million, 15-year borrowing to help build the store. The $4 million bond would be the largest contribution the county has ever made to a private business, according to the West Bend Daily News. The $4.5 million would be used to help develop Cabela's museum and educational facilities in the store. Cabela's would offer educational and entertainment attractions, featuring a "faux mountainside," classes and tours. Cabela's is selling the project as tourism. They say they will offer museum-quality representations of many wild-game species, including an expansive diorama devoted to African game animals, a deli-style restaurant, a World-class Gun Library, a full-service fly-fishing shop, a shooting gallery, and an indoor archery range. State taxpayers have already pledged $5 million to the private retailer in the form of highway improvements offered by the state's Department of Transportation. The Wisconsin Department of Commerce has pledged another $750,000 of public welfare to Cabela's as well. Cabela's has promised to employ 345 workers, of which 150 would be full-time, and another 195 part time. Cabela's claims its starting pay is in the $10 to $12 range, and all employees, even part-timers, get benefits. This would make the retailer's pay and benefit package more generous than retail leader Wal-Mart, which claims its average wage is $9.68 per hour, but offers no independent verification of that statistic. Like Wal-Mart, Cabela's has acquired a taste for corporate welfare to survive, and its "new" jobs would displace workers at other outdoor outfitter stores anywhere near this trade area, so their jobs are not all net gainers. To sell the deal some local officials called Cabela's "high end tourism" instead of retail. The company has to convince two thirds of the 30 member County Supervisors Board to approve the public subsidy. The Board's Finance Subcommittee reviewed the welfare plan, and referred it to to the full Board for a vote next week -- without their recommendation. Thomas Smith, a Board member from West Bend, told the Daily News, Cabela's "is probably a wonderful store. My concern is county government essentially subsidizing a retail development. That's a bitter pill for me to swallow." The Finance Committee's chair, James Esselmann of Trenton, said he was against "borrowing county taxpayers' money" to pay for private development. Committee members also noted that there are two Fleet Farm stores in the county, a Gander Mountain sporting and outdoor goods store in Germantown and a Shooters store in Lomira that would be affected by a Cabela's store. The Daily News reported that Donald Berchem from West Bend called it "a slippery slope when you support retail. When do you stop?"

What you can do: When, indeed, does it stop? If Cabela's is such a "wonderful store," the company should have no problem raising the funds it needs to make a wonderful profit -- without asking taxspayers (which includes its competitors) to subsidize the plan. The general principle should be: if its got a retail component, no corporate welfare. Tax breaks for industrial development that has a global market, and produces good-paying jobs with benefits -- fine. But retail needs to stand on its own, without costly welfare payments. For similar stories about the Master of the Welfare Pitch, Wal-Mart, search Newsflash by "corporate welfare."










 
 
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