Douglas announces new Wal-Mart store in Franklin County

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(Host) Wal-Mart has unveiled plans to build its largest store in the state. The facility will be located in Saint Albans town. Governor Jim Douglas says the proposal may be the first of several new Wal-Marts planned for Vermont.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The new store, which will be located just north of Saint Albans City, will be 35 percent larger than any other existing Wal-Mart in the state. Officials say the facility will employ roughly 400 people and about 300 of these jobs would be full-time positions.

The store is expected to include a garden center, pharmacy and vision center. Governor Jim Douglas says the proposal will be a shot in the arm for the economy of Franklin County:

(Douglas) “Since Woolworth’s and Ames left some time ago many Franklin county residents have had to drive an hour to do their retail shopping. Last time this was proposed in the mid 90s the downtown merchants in Saint Albans City were resistant, but now they understand that it’s going to be beneficial because folks will do their shopping in Franklin county and everybody will benefit.”

(Kinzel) Douglas says he’s also been in talks with Wal-Mart officials about other potential sites in Vermont:

(Douglas) “A number of months ago Lieutenant Governor Dubie and I met with representatives of the Wal-Mart company and discussed with them their plans for possible additional stores in other locations. I don’t feel at liberty to discuss them in detail at this point but it’s fair to say they’re looking at some other possible sites in Vermont.”

(Kinzel) Some critics of Wal-Mart say the company doesn’t pay very good salaries and often doesn’t provide benefits to some of its employees. Economist Richard Heaps of Northern Economic Consulting says the criticism is valid. But Heaps says that doesn’t mean that the new jobs are worthless:

(Heaps) “They’re not high paying jobs. They’re not the jobs that we have at IBM, they’re not the jobs we’ve got at General Dynamics and they certainly are not those jobs. On the other hand, are they welcome jobs to the area, and in addition to what’s available there? And the answer is without a doubt, they are. They do pay a range of salaries and for those folks who are looking to work in retail and are dedicated workers and want to put in some time, they can earn a decent living working at Wal-Mart.”

(Kinzel) Wal-Mart officials hope to complete construction of the new store by the beginning of 2005. However that timetable could be delayed if there’s significant local opposition to the plan.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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