Friday morning, Walmart Store Manager Sean Brooks stood before at least 100 in Burnsville's brand new store and asked the crowd to envision what he described as a "magical" transformation.
"Four weeks and four days ago this store was empty—no signs even—just white, blue and yellow concrete. As it came together, I started thinking: What impact can opening one Walmart have on a community?" Brooks told the crowd of local politicians, new employees and BHS cheerleaders gathered at the grand opening. "I'd never thought of it that way before."
It can be argued that Brooks articulated the million dollar question, one that has no easy answer. Depending on who you ask, a Walmart is an economic boon, a bane or a wash.
Certainly, those gathered for the grand opening were more inclined to view Walmart's long-awaited arrival to Burnsville as a blessing. When asked what distinguished the store at 12200 River Ridge Boulevard from other Walmart locations, Brooks was quick to point out that the building was a prototype based on Wal-Mart's stated commitment to sustainable and eco-friendly business practices. Brooks said the 155,000 square foot Burnsville location, known as Store #5977, is designed to be energy efficient, space-saving and low-waste.
At the grand opening, the company also put great emphasis on its charitable giving. For the grand opening, Wal-Mart kicked in $15,000 to local non-profits including Beyond The Yellow Ribbon Campaign, 360 Communities, the City of Burnsville, Burnsville Public Schools and others. Brooks added that for every 25 hours of employee volunteer time per quarter, the company will donate $250 to a local organization of the employee's choice. So far, 10 employees have already done so.
From the city's point of view, the Walmart will add a welcome influx of tax money and employment. Mayor Elizabeth Kautz thanked Brooks and other Walmart officials for bringing jobs to the city. So far, the store has hired on 389 people, more than initial estimates. Brooks estimates that the company will hire on another 60 to 70 people.
The Burnsville location is just one of many Walmart stores popping up across the Twin Cities region as the company makes an aggressive push into territory previously dominated by arch-rival Target and the Eden Prairie-based Supervalu chain, which is beset with financial turmoil. This week alone, two more Walmart stores will open up in St. Cloud and Redwood Falls. As of July, Walmart employed 20,696 in Minnesota. The three new locations will add 1,100 more to company payrolls spokeswoman Delia Garcia told the Pioneer Press.
There is much debate about the precise impact a new Walmart might have on a local economy, however.
One widely cited study was conducted by Global Insight in 2005, which reported that the presence of a Walmart had a dampening effect on inflation, lowering overall commodity prices and thus helping the average consumer.
Analysts at the Economic Policy Institute countered that such an argument is a red herring, on the grounds that much of the inflation dogging consumers comes from the increased cost of rent, utilities, healthcare, and transportation rather than the foodstuffs and generic household items stocked by Walmart. They further argued that Walmart's price advantage can also result in job losses as smaller fish close up shop and the company's comparatively low pay ($12.36 an hour) depress wages at competitors who are able to stay in business—in this case Costco, Cub Foods and Target, all of which are within a mile of the new store.
These concerns were far from the minds of all those in attendance on Friday, however, as employees lined up at the registers in anticipation of the shoppers that began to flood in as soon as the ribbon was cut. For those who are interested in a job at Walmart, go to http://careers.walmart.com/. The physical address is 12200 River Ridge Boulevard and the phone number is (952) 356-0018.