Holyoke, MA. Mayor Announces Opposition To Wal-Mart, Calls Superstore "A Step Backward."
On July 25, 2013, Mayor Alex Morse of Holyoke, Massachustts held a press conference with neighborhood activists by his side, to announce his "firm opposition" to a proposed Wal-Mart superstore abutting a residential neighborhood.
Here is the text of Mayor Morse's speech:
"For nearly half a decade now, our national economy has struggled through what has been called the Great Recession. But for many Americans -- including many Holyokers -- the Great Recession was only the latest, more extreme manifestation of what they already knew: that jobs were scarce and that economic inequality threatened our nation's economic stability.
In Holyoke, we are no strangers to this type of economic hardship. Even during the economic boom of the 90s, we were suffering the fate of many former-mill towns like ours. The jobs that had sustained Holyoke's workforce for decades were gone, and more and more of our fellow citizens lived below the poverty line. Many who were born and raised here chose simply to move out, resigned to the fact that Holyoke's best days were past.
Today, Holyoke is making a comeback. Aided by the strength and resilience of our people, the city of Holyoke has laid the foundation for a new type of economy. My administration's economic priority has been to change the city's value proposition: we may not be making paper, but we are making things again. We have set our eyes on the horizon and have formed a long-term vision for the type of city we can be -- a city that enables the creativity and ingenuity of its citizens, and that invests in top-notch public infrastructure, stimulates private investment, and provides opportunities for businesses and residents to flourish. Already, we have seen progress -- be it Holyoke's first active rail stop for Amtrak service, our intense focus on the creative economy, the completion of Holyoke's first Urban Renewal Plan, or the myriad new businesses that have opened during the past year-and-a-half.
Like most great accomplishments, though, the type of economic transformation we hope for takes time and effort; there are no quick fixes. In the short-term, no one can deny the need for new jobs and new revenue. Given that reality, I consider it my responsibility to keep an open mind about some projects I consider less than ideal. That is why, up until recently, I remained open -- despite serious personal misgivings about the company -- to the possibility of Walmart's opening a store in Holyoke.
Since the proposed Walmart project became public, I have had time to receive feedback from members of the community. And throughout the discussions I have had, certain arguments have weighed heavily on me.
One such argument is that that a Walmart will be uniquely harmful to the neighborhood in which it resides. No Walmart in Western Massachusetts is situated in a residential neighborhood such as this one -- and placing one here would threaten the character of this part of the city. That is a risk that these residents are right to oppose.
Another such argument involves the facts regarding Walmart and job-creation. Walmart's business model relies on depressing the costs of labor -- providing lower wages and fewer benefits than its competitors, and employing 40% of its workers on part-time basis only. The result of this model is to drive better-paying jobs out of communities. A 2005 study from the Review of Economics and Statistics found that in counties where a Walmart is built, there is a net increase of 100 retail jobs in the first year, but that in the ensuing five years, as smaller retail establishments are forced to close, almost that many jobs are lost.
Therefore, in terms of jobs, the net benefit of a Walmart is virtually nonexistent. For our community in particular, we already know that this Walmart project jeopardizes other potential development -- including the prospect of a Big Y [grocery store] and the Atlas Copco project, sited less than a mile away from Walmart's proposed site. Moreover, we know that this Walmart project would imperil the revitalization of downtown, as well as jobs that our citizens have already come to rely on.
At a time of such consequence for our city, we cannot support projects that trade jobs for jobs, nor can we allow the allure of short-term hiring to compromise our ability to create new and better jobs down the road. At a time when our economy needs higher wages and dignified jobs -- a fact that has been recognized across the state in protests and even walkouts by Walmart's own employees -- we must do better than to welcome a company that would block this effort. After all the strides we have already made, we cannot afford to take a step backward.
It is for these reasons that I stand today in firm opposition to this project.
As of this week, I have called upon the developer Ferrera-Jerum to pursue a different user for the land at Whiting Farms Road. I now also urge the Planning Board to review this plan with the most critical of eyes -- because I trust that a thorough review of the neighborhood's well-being will lead them to same conclusion I have reached. Furthermore, if a time comes when Walmart will seek special permits for their proposal, I encourage the City Council to be diligent in reviewing these requests, bearing in mind the long-term best interest of this neighborhood and our city as a whole.
All that said, it is important to mind that, although we gather today to make our case, Walmart nonetheless plans to move forward with their proposal. Just two days ago, a Walmart spokesperson reaffirmed the company's commitment to coming to our community. That is why I must ask that you all to remain vigilant throughout every step of this process. That is the only way to ensure that now, and for years to come, the people of Holyoke will have the power to shape our city's future.
I want to close by thanking everyone in this room and across the city who helped bring this issue to the forefront. As you continue in your efforts, know that you have an ally in City Hall. Remember that with your help, and the help of all Holyokers, a brighter economic future awaits."
What you can do: In a 439 word response to the Mayor's statement issued two days latar, a Wal-Mart spokesman claimed that "Walmart's wages and benefits meet or exceed those offered by most competitors." The statement then made a strange geographic leap: "In Florida our average, hourly full time wage is $13.86 an hour."
Wal-Mart also defended its health care plans, saying that an employee can buy a health plan for a single person for $8.70 per week--but he failed to mention the plan is really only for catastrophic coverage because of its high deductible. According to a state study in 2009, a total of 4,796 Wal-Mart workers relied on state and federal taxpayers for their health care support through Medicaid. That means roughly 44% of Wal-Mart workers in Massachusetts choose Medicaid over Wal-Mart's "affordable" company health plan. The workers can tell what is in their best interests. In 2009, Wal-Mart workers and dependents cost the Commonwealth's taxpayers $15.5 million.
Wal-Mart also claimed that "75 percent of our store management teams across the country started as hourly associates," and that "a job at Walmart...offers an opportunity for a real career." But assuming there are roughly 4,000 store managers at Wal-Mart stores in America, out of a workforce of 1.3 million workers--the percent of store managers in their workforce is only 3/10ths of 1%.
Readers are urged to go to Wal-Mart New England at http://newengland.walmartcommunity.com/contact-us/ and leave them this message:
"It's time for Wal-Mart to walk away from Holyoke! A 160,000 s.f. store makes no sense next to an established residential neighborhood, and the retail stores in the area are already at a saturation point.
Please heed the words of your founder, Sam Walton: "If some community, for whatever reason, doesn't want us to go in there, we're not going to go in and create a fuss."
Your proposal has clearly raised a fuss in Holyoke. The Mayor has now come out firmly against you. Now--before you have submitted any plans---is the time for you to walk away from the Holyoke site."