The Latest: Here Comes Walmart

thelatestWalmart is making plans for seven new stores that could bring an estimated 2,000 jobs to Oregon. The 152,000 square foot Cornelius Supercenter is set to open next Wednesday morning, the first new Walmart in Oregon since 2007.

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Walmart is making plans for seven new stores that could bring an estimated 2,000 jobs to Oregon.

The projects begin with the 152,000 square foot Cornelius Supercenter set to open next Wednesday morning, the first new Walmart to open in Oregon since 2007.  The other locations are sprinkled throughout the state in The Dalles, Medford, Albany and Warrenton, as well as a new store and an expansion to an existing store in Portland.  The projects are in various stages of the development process, and have been received by a wide range of positive and negative reactions and in some cases, are still bogged down in the court system.

Oregon, and Portland especially, are known for outspoken anti-Walmart sentiment from critics such as Portland Mayor Sam Adams, who led a campaign against Walmart back when he was a city commissioner.

“In the past I don’t think we told our story well enough in Oregon, because the more people understand about what we represent and what we bring as a company in terms of affordability, jobs and product the more open the conversation has been,” said Walmart’s director of community affairs, Steve Restivo. “Now we’ve learned how to listen and we try and make sure our stores fit the community that we are going to bring them into. That means they are going to vary in size and they will also vary in the local products that we are going to carry.”

For example, the proposed Hayden Island location in Portland will be 85,700 square feet whereas the expansion at the 82nd ave location will make the store nearly twice as big at 158,500 square feet to include a full-service grocery, produce, meat, deli and bakery.

The largest retailer in the nation is also trying to win over Oregonians by publicizing its green credentials. Wal-Mart is making a push to reduce its huge carbon footprint through several clean-energy alternatives including an ambitious solar power investment. The Cornelius store has numerous skylights and a lighting system that changes depending on the weather.  Much of the hot water will come from the heat reclaimed through the refrigeration equipment.  Outside shoppers can use the jogging path around the store and the landscaping includes native plants and an irrigation system that also varies according to the weather.

Restivo said these features along with the promise of jobs and growth have helped warm some politicians and critics up to the idea of allowing new Walmarts into their communities.  Currently there are 10,600 Wal-Mart employees in Oregon earning an average hourly rate of $12.26 per hour.

For many Oregonians that’s not enough, when combined with the sprawling parking lots and crippling impact on small community businesses. A citizens group called Medford Citizens for Responsible Development has fought Walmart for six years, and although the store is approved by the City of Medford an appeal is still pending from the Oregon Supreme Court.

Frustration in The Dalles was thwarted when LUBA recently denied an appeal coming from another citizen group to block construction. Construction is expected to begin within a year.

The store in Albany is in the final stages of approval. 

Residents of the small coastal town of Warrenton, roughly 4,500 people, found out a Wal-Mart would be coming to town when it was initially reported in the fall of 2009.  Just about a year later the process hasn’t moved at all, and Oregon Business still gets comments both positive and negative, curious as to the progress of the store. People at Wal-Mart say the Warrenton store is coming; they’re just not sure when.

“It’s hard to say which store will open next because it’s just hard to know in Oregon,” said Restivo.

Jessica Hoch is an online reporter for Oregon Business.

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