Walmart Wants New York?

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NYCTo say the New York City consumer is discriminating is an understatement. New York City seems to pride itself on its unique shopping experience, offering tony boutiques, high-end fashion shops, and even unique mom and pop stores, so the prospect of having a Walmart in every five boroughs has New Yorkers up in arms. ??But according to a recent Walmart study published in Crain´s New York, New York City small business owners are actually in favor of having Walmart in the five boroughs by a count of 62 percent to 27 percent. This, despite the fact the chain has been known to cause small businesses to shut down after they are unable to compete with the quantity of goods and the lower price of Walmart.??

According to Deborah Gilbert, executive director of Moretta Economic Development Corporation (an Augusta, Georgia based nonprofit organization that partners with community- based organizations to build capacity for housing, community wellness, and economic progress), the idea to meet with black leaders was a smart move on the part of Walmart, whose CEO Mike Duke even met with President Obama in November to help in its “good corporate citizen image” and to reach out to business leaders nationwide. “Walmart understands the value of including feedback from the community residents and community leaders during its market analysis and site consideration process. I think the necessity speaks to a business evaluation process,” says Gilbert. “Public relations and public awareness, one in the same, help move agendas forward. Engaging the community is the greater objective of any campaign process. From my perspective, the more critical question is how up-to-date community residents and leaders are to the short- and long-term impacts of the current issue being discussed. Are the community leaders and residents well-informed, armed with quality data and analysis to participate in the process, and able to make well-informed decisions?”??

And to assist in its efforts to gain the support of the people of New York, Walmart has called on several black leaders to help pave the way. In fact, Walmart execs met with Al Sharpton and the president of Urban League in Arkansas. Sharpton was joined by at least half a dozen prominent black New Yorkers who took part in a three-day “stakeholder summit” organized by Walmart. And the Walmart wasn´t just using the summit to reach out to important black New Yorkers, there were also African-American leaders from Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and other urban centers, where Walmart wants to expand. In attendance were Hazel Dukes, president of the NAACP New York State Conference; David Banks, president of the Eagle Academy Foundation; and Devine Prior, deputy executive director of the Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions at Medgar Evers College.

??Sharpton actually sits on the company’s external advisory board. Among the items discussed at the summit were Walmart´s promise to sell cheaper prescription drugs, hire more veterans and minorities, and give employees the chance to earn college degrees. And for New Yorkers, the company reminded attendees that the firm has always been involved in New York charities, giving – over the past three years – $9 million in grants.??

“Meetings and charitable contributions are positive, but long-term goals that help the unemployed in urban communities as well as partnering with minority community-based businesses are more important,” says Gilbert. “Are members of this proposed ‘public/private partnership’ willing to ask the difficult questions that might help the group move toward the benefit of a healthy corporate bottom line without sacrificing the economic wellness of the community and its individual residents and small business owners? Is the group able to still the volatility of homelessness, joblessness, the foreclosure crisis, and other educational and economic issues to find quiet space for meaningful discussion?” she notes. “Leaders should bring a great deal of strength, fairness and objectivity to the discussion to make sound decisions on behalf of community issues. Beyond short-term solutions, what are the long-term impacts based on the assumptions of today?”??

According to Walmart, they want to open a site on a 180,000-square-foot site at the Gateway II shopping center in East New York, Brooklyn, a neighborhood that is 49% black. To push the idea ahead, they hired – earlier this year – lobbyist Jacqui Williams, who previously helped with the launch of Ikea in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn.??

Will all of Walmart´s outreach make gains for the corporate giant? “Possibly, if well directed and intended,” says Gilbert. “What’s powerfully smart is that there is actually measurable dialog and discussion taking place. Corporate, community leaders and individuals were willing to get into the same space to share ideas, discuss the issues and participate in moving the agenda forward,” she explains. “The platform for discussion and communication is key. In my opinion, that’s healthy progress. Imagine what the storyline would be if these groups were not talking? I remember the days when you’d just wake up one morning and find a ‘big-box’ entity in your neighborhood. And you’d somewhere along the line ask, “When did that happen? Who voted for that? Who had a say in that decision?”??

As far as New Yorkers coming to accept the mega chain, that’s still in question, but adds Gilbert, “The complexity of this beautiful city of New York – it’s richness in culture, history, economic progress – and the vast challenges especially for residents of underserved communities – presents unique long-term opportunities around, safety, careers, health, wellness and overall community economic empowerment. Leaders and residents simply have to stay at the table engaged and committed to participate in the stages of the evolving progress,” she continues, “The train already left the station; it’s moving with an intended destination. What’s crucial for the community and residents of NYC is to stay on board, and to keep communicating and participating in the decisions of economic empowerment so that at the end of the day, progress is measured by the number of jobs created, the number of individuals who have directly benefited from and the lives improved by the micro-detail of the community corporate citizenship of the ‘big guys’”.