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Wal-Mart in Jefferson

This letter is from Tom Pinnow, chairman of the Jefferson Development Commission. It appeared in the Daily Union on April 4, 2005.

March 31, 2005

Dear Editor:

Your readers should be informed that the Wal-Mart Supercenter proposed for the City of Jefferson could be a real benefit to Jefferson. There has been so much misinformation and biased viewpoints circulated that it has caused confusion. And, I must add, that it is very disappointing that your newspaper has contributed to this biased and less than objective campaign.

I feel compelled to write this letter as the President of the Jefferson Development Commission (JDC) however, the JDC has not made an official recommendation. We are still waiting for the site plans and final proposal from Wal-Mart. These comments are mine alone.

The research committee of the Jefferson Development Commission surveyed about 12 Wisconsin communities that have a Wal-Mart. The consensus was that Wal-Mart has had a POSITIVE affect on their communities. Those interviewed felt that Wal-Mart has provided valued products and convenience to their citizens, and the Wal-Mart Supercenters have stimulated other retail development. In addition the presence of a Wal-Mart has caused their existing retailers to become better retailers. This is a plus for the consumer. The wholesale closing of stores (as purported by some) when Wal-Mart comes to town did not happen in these communities. The consensus regarding businesses that did close was that they closed for reasons not directly related to Wal-Mart.

There are comments from over 20 communities that refute the doomsday scenario prophesied by those against this project.

Yes, Wal-Mart may make it more difficult for the grocery market, but probably no more than if a new Pick-N-Save came to town. It is not the fact that it is ‘Wal-Mart’ coming to town, but the addition of another grocery store that creates the problem. If we say no to Wal-Mart we are really saying no to any new grocery store as well.

What about the many businesses that will benefit from this new Wal-Mart? We have been told by many local business owners that Wal-Mart will help their businesses survive. Some feel it is crucial to their future. Unfortunately they have not been as loud and vocal as those few who oppose it. Yes, it may have a negative affect on a couple of businesses, but it appears it will help more than it will hurt. Any new business coming to town can have a negative impact on existing businesses. This is not unique to Wal-Mart. We simply cannot exercise protectionism. The market must decide which businesses succeed and which businesses do not.

Why does Wal-Mart need another store in Jefferson when there is one only ten minutes away? Well, why do we need a Premier Bank in town, or a McDonalds or a Subway or a gas station or any other business? Everything we want is only ten minutes away in either direction. These businesses are in Jefferson because they feel there is a need for their products and services in Jefferson. Wal-Mart, too feels that there is a need they can fill in our community.

Please consider the fact that all of our citizens do not drive. If an elderly or handicapped person does not drive they are limited to where a taxi will take them. Did you know it costs $18 round trip to take a taxi from Jefferson to Fort? Did you know that you cannot take a taxi from Jefferson to Watertown? Having a large discount retailer in Jefferson would open up a whole new realm of products and convenient hours to those who cannot drive. By the way the elderly and disabled could make a round trip to Wal-Mart in Jefferson for $2.50.

We obtained retail wage information from the US Department of Labor and the Wisconsin Department of Revenue and found that Wal-Mart’s pay to their employees IS in line with other retailers. The notion that Wal-Mart will force people into poverty is foolish. I am not aware of any situation where someone is ‘forced’ to work at Wal-Mart or any other business. People work there by choice and have the freedom to seek other employment when ever they choose. Plus, Wal-Mart’s wages are in line with other retailers. To disparage Wal-Mart for low wages disparages all retail businesses.

Jefferson’s former and current police chief have stated that crime (again purported by some) does not increase when a Wal-Mart comes to town.

Jefferson is the second choice because Fort Atkinson turned down Wal-Mart. First of all, as I understand it, Fort turned down the site, not Wal-Mart. Second, Fort has a Shopko and a Kmart. Third, I think this was an economic development faux pas from which Jefferson can benefit. Let’s not use it as an excuse to deny Wal-Mart. Let’s take advantage of the opportunity!

Another stance that I find interesting is that there will be no net tax benefit to our city. This is simply not true. The city will receive an estimated $73,714 and the Jefferson School District will receive an estimated $89,554. This does not include the potential additional taxes from new businesses and development that typically follows a Wal-Mart Supercenter. This is money our city desperately needs.

Some say that the additional taxes are offset by businesses that will close. But remember the communities we surveyed did not experience mass business closures and Wal-Mart could not be linked to those businesses that closed. Also, even if a business does fail the business owner may not be the building owner, so the property taxes would still be paid. Even if a business owns the real estate and the business fails it is my understanding that the property taxes still get paid. The city may have to write off personal property taxes, but it is very doubtful it would lose any property tax. The point is that this argument does not make sense.

Then there are the local petitions. There are approximately 1600 people in Jefferson that favor the proposed Wal-Mart and approximately 945 who oppose it. This is a margin of 745. This is significant when you consider that our current mayor won by one (1) vote.

Now there are people who oppose the project because of the site. This is interesting because we do not even have the plans to review. In a recent letter to the editor Mr. and Mrs. James Van Leishout compare this project to the Watertown Wal-Mart, but this is comparing apples and oranges. Watertown is over three times bigger than Jefferson, so how can one say that we need the same number of traffic lanes. The number of traffic lanes needed are determined by the potential for other businesses in this area. This is a larger area, so they anticipate more traffic. You also must consider the number of businesses between the Watertown Wal-Mart and Main Street.

Also, the Van Leishout’s argument does not address the fact that the proposed Jefferson Wal-Mart is over 30,000 square feet less than the Watertown Wal-Mart. They also imply that this project is not ‘planned development’ which is just not the case. The Wal-Mart project is consistent with the Master Plan and it is even mentioned, specifically, as a potential business for this tract of land.

It is my opinion that the city of Jefferson will benefit from a Wal-Mart Supercenter. If just a few people prevent this project from going forward it will be at a great expense in terms of dollars, future development and service and convenience to all of us.

If you feel the same as I do you MUST speak out now. Let your feelings be known to your elected officials.


Thomas C. Pinnow
President, Jefferson Development Commission