Opinions

The District’s terrible message to job creators

A spate of new development projects coming to fruition in Washington — from CityCenter to the Capitol Riverfront to the O Street Market — presents an encouraging indication of the city’s momentum.

But while the District is starting to move in the right direction when it comes to economic development, plenty of work remains to be done. Double-digit unemployment rates linger in some areas, shopping dollars continue to leave the city and grocery prices inside the District remain too high for some families.

One way to tackle these problems is to encourage companies to invest in ways that can create jobs and opportunities for residents. Sadly, the D.C. Council is considering legislation called the Large Retailer Accountability Actthat would prevent many employers from doing exactly that.

Specifically, this law would unfairly single out “large retailers” for special wage and benefit requirements not imposed on any other businesses or organizations in the city. This would impede companies such as Macy’s, Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Lowe’s and Target from bringing thousands of new jobs, more shopping choices and lower retail prices to the District.

Special interests such as grocery unions are driving this effort because they want to decide where D.C. residents should shop and work. At the end of the day, they want to block opportunities to have a career or to save money — opportunities offered, for example, by Wal-Mart.

Our wages and benefits already meet or exceed those of most competitors, and the vast majority of our store management team started as hourly associates. These managers earn between $50,000 and $170,000 a year. Every year we promote about 170,000 people to jobs with more responsibility and higher pay.

I should know. I started as an hourly associate at a Wal-Mart store in Panama City Beach, Fla., in 1985 and have witnessed the promotion of tens of thousands of people during my 28 years with the company.

We want to create more of those opportunities in the District. We already employ about 600 D.C. residents, and with our first six locations planned in the city (two set to open this year), we hope to create about 2,400 construction and retail jobs.

But the proposed law sends the wrong message to those of us who want to grow in the District and bring jobs to the city.

By limiting shopping choices in the city, the legislation also would exacerbate an alarming local trend: According to the city’s Office of Planning, D.C. residents spend more than $1 billion annually at retailers outside of the District. When residents are forced to leave the District to shop, the city loses revenue. Limited choices also lead to higher prices — especially in the city’s most under-served areas, such as Wards 5, 7 and 8, which suffer from a lack of affordable, fresh food.

This legislation would have a chilling effect on the recent wave of growth and expansion in the District and stifle job opportunities and more affordable shopping options from coming to the city.

The D.C. Council should stand up to the special interest groups driving the Large Retailer Accountability Act and send a clear message to companies across the country that our nation’s capital is open for business.

Henry Jordan is a senior vice president for Wal-Mart U.S.

 
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