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2009-06-28
Penitas, TX. Texas Governor A “Fan” Of Wal-Mart Supercenters

The Governor of Texas recently had Wal-Mart stage a special ribbon-cutting for a new superstore in his state so he could brag about Texas' economic climate. On April 23, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart had proposed a 184,109 s.f. superstore one mile north of the Mexican border in the tiny Rio Grande Valley "city" of Penitas, Texas. As of 2007, Penitas had a population of less than 1,200 people -- not much change over the past decade. It also has 7 Wal-Mart supercenters within 20 miles, including a superstore 8 miles away in Palmhurst, and 10 miles away in Mission, Texas. The idea of another Wal-Mart supercenter for this trade area is, as the locals might say, loco. In the spring of 2008 -- right in the middle of building its new supercenter in Penitas -- Wal-Mart stopped work on the project. The Monitor newspaper called it a "halt in construction... only months from completion." Wal-Mart officials would not comment on the abrupt stoppage, but city leaders explained that Wal-Mart wanted to make its store more Hispanic. The rumors started that Wal-Mart suddenly decided that it wanted to make a store that was "more locally focused." That means more Mexican products to appeal to the large immigrant population in Hidalgo County. A former Mayor of Penitas told the newspaper, "Wal-Mart decided that they were going to do a new product mix, floor plan and make it directed towards Mexican clients." Mayor Marcos Ochoa said he was unofficially told that Wal-Mart was taking a break in order to "reformat" the store. The real estate agent who made the land sale to Wal-Mart, told the media that Wal-Mart was "excited about the new concept for the store." "They have been experimenting with new formats and they have chosen a new format for this store," said broker John Womack. "We're excited that it's going to allow us to be distinguished from other stores in the region." The reformatted superstore actually opened in April of 2009 -- but a second ribbon-cutting was staged on June 26th so the Governor of Texas could join the event. According to a press release issued by his office, Governor Rick Perry said he was "proud to welcome this new Wal-Mart to Texas." The Governor said that "Wal-Mart is a company that understands what it means to compete, a company that understands its customers, and will do what it takes to meet their needs. The fact that their new workforce will represent roughly 10% of the Penitas population is remarkable. The 300 new associates who have donned the blue shirt are taking their place in a statewide Wal-Mart workforce of nearly 160,000 associates. When you factor in the number of people who work for Wal-Mart suppliers in Texas... you see another 200,000 jobs connected to the company, which add up to a whole lot of paychecks that people are using to feed their families." The Governor's numbers all came directly from Wal-Mart's website. "I have to admit I'm a Wal-Mart fan," Governor Perry continued. "Sure, I'm proud of them for investing in the local community, with their grants to local schools and first responders, and their commitment to buy local." At the end of his speech, the Governor congratulated the town of Penitas "on this new magnet for jobs and investment."

What you can do: Wal-Mart issued its own press release on the Penitas superstore opening on April 25, 2009 -- two months before Governor Perry's photo opportunity. "The new store will bring approximately 300 jobs to area residents as well as ongoing support to local non-profit organizations," the company claimed. Penitas Mayor Ochoa was at the April ribbon cutting. "One of the immediate benefits of Wal-Mart opening in Penitas is the number of permanent full-time and part-time employment opportunities that will be provided for area residents," Ochoa claimed. "We have a high unemployment rate in Hidalgo County, and these jobs will allow many families to have a better standard of living." A full-time worker at this store (32 hours per week) will make $18,457 per year, before taxes and withholding. The new superstore is one of Wal-Mart's Mexican-themed stores, making corn and flour tortillas and chips daily, bolillo bread and pandulce. The store will also offer a wider selection of tropical fruits, chilies and spices, a juice bar with paletas, and bulk packages of specially marinated meat, rice and beans. The store will also have a Wal-Mart MoneyCenter, which provides check cashing and money orders for families wanting to send money to relatives in Mexico. Wal-Mart gave a small grant to the Penitas police department to purchase bullet-proof vests. There is no population in Penitas to support this superstore, and all around Penitas are more Wal-Mart superstores -- which they will not shut down. The superstore saturation in the Penitas area is largely designed to take market share away from the regional grocery chain store H.E.B., which has 13 grocery stores within 20 miles of Penitas. Governor Perry's state, with 298 Wal-Mart superstores, has by far and away the largest collection of these huge monuments to sprawl. Florida is a distant second with 168 superstores. What Governor Perry may not know is that Texas has more dead Wal-Marts than any other state in the nation. The company is currently trying to sell 16 buildings in places like Bay City, Childress, Crosby, Duncanville, Eagle Pass, Garland, Grand Prairie, Houston, Mineral Wells, Plano, Richland Hills, San Angelo, and White Settlement. The Governor's office will not be traveling anytime soon to Garland, where Wal-Mart is trying to sell for $5.5 million a 213,143 s.f. hypermarket that it built on 26 acres of land in 1987. The new Penitas Wal-Mart was built for $15 million. In White Settlement, Wal-Mart has emptied out a Wal-Mart and a Sam's Club, leaving 255,000 s.f. of space on the market. If Wal-Mart actually 'created' 300 new jobs in Penitas, it would be enough jobs to hire 25% of the city's residents. A community with less than 1,200 people does not need a superstore more than three times the size of a football field. Readers are urged to email Texas Governor Rick Perry at http://governor.state.tx.us/contact/ with the following message: "Dear Governor Perry, I was amazed that you would travel to Penitas to tell residents that Wal-Mart would 'allow many families to have a better standard of living.' You certainly read right off Wal-Mart's script. Do you really think that Wal-Mart will result in a net gain of 300 jobs? Let the folks at H.E.B. -- your native state grocery chain -- talk about Wal-Mart's new jobs. Then ask the people in White Settlement or Garland what they think about their empty Wal-Mart buildings. Another Wal-Mart supercenter in a tiny town like Penitas is not a form of economic development. It's just a game of retail musical chairs, and you are singing Wal-Mart's tune. The fact that you would stage a second ribbon cutting for such an unimpressive piece of suburban sprawl says very little for the great state of Texas, or for your office. The city of Penitas should never have approved a store of this size, and your office should have found some more beneficial economic development project to get excited about. Your comment about Wal-Mart's "commitment to buy local" is really quite bizarre, given the company's outsourcing of most of its products. Sure, you can get a local tortilla now at Wal-Mart, but stroll through the rest of the stores and look at where products are coming from -- including major imports from Mexico."










 
 
"Norman has become the guru of the anti-Wal-Mart movement" ~ 60 Minutes

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