Whenever a Walmart opens there are concerns about its effect on the local economy: the people and their standard of living in the area. One talking point is jobs. The store is hiring 225 people and still has openings. But opponents say those jobs aren't the kind that Franklin County needs.
"Of course they're going to be Walmart quality jobs. We're not talking about great-quality jobs," says Sue Prent, a spokesperson with the Northwest Citizens for Responsible Growth. "I think the turnout suggests it's not the most alluring of possibilities."
And even though there will be jobs added, those might not be Walmart's biggest impact on the area.
"They don't have a huge impact in terms of jobs. Plus or minus it's a little bit on either side. But whether it's a plus it's a small plus and whether it's a minus it's a small minus," says economist and UVM Associate Professor of Economics Art Woolf. "The biggest impact is that it brings a lot lower prices."
Lower prices that Walmart opponents worry could force local stores out of business.
"There are a lot of long-standing retail businesses throughout Franklin County that depend on really a very small profit margin," Prent says. "And it would be very easy to force them out of business."
Others point to Chittenden County, saying businesses can compete successfully if they find a niche and don't try to carry the same goods as Walmart.
"I don't think it's a given that when Walmart comes in, everyone else just folds up shop and leaves," Woolf says. "You have to be much more aware of your market if you're a retailer, but it doesn't mean you're going to fail."
Art Woolf testified for the developer during the permitting process and says he thinks the store will bring more business to St. Albans, and the biggest negative effect will be on the nearest Walmart.
"I think what will happen to St. Albans is people in Franklin County won't come down to Chittenden County, so there will probably be a loss of business at the Walmart in Williston," he says.
Opponents remain skeptical, admitting the area needed a department store -- but not one that large.
"The projections for the market size I think were unrealistic and were used to make it appear like this was not going to swamp all of our local retailers," Prent says.
Both sides admit the power is in the hands of the customers, who decide where to spend their money. And opponents say right now there isn't anything they can do other than monitor Walmart's impact to their area -- and tell others about their experience.
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