Wal-Mart Is in Maryland to Stay

By Lee Scott
Thursday, February 9, 2006

Last month the Maryland General Assembly enacted a law that requires large employers to spend a certain percentage of their payroll on health care. The bill was designed to apply solely to our company, Wal-Mart. Since then we've received a lot of e-mails and phone calls from folks urging us to stop doing business in Maryland. "Send those politicians a message," many of our friends are saying. We always appreciate advice, but what we'd like to do instead is send the people of Maryland a different message: We at Wal-Mart stand by you.

If we closed our doors in Maryland, a lot of things would happen, and none of them would be good for the working families of this state. Seventeen thousand associates work for us in Maryland. Every one of them -- both full-time and part-time -- can become eligible for health coverage that costs as little as $23 per month. Our stores here collect $112 million in sales taxes and generate $13 million more in tax revenue for state and local governments. We buy $678 million worth of goods and services from 667 Maryland suppliers. Thanks to our foundation and good works in our stores, we donate $3.7 million to local charities in Maryland. And when it comes to our customers, we save the average household more than $2,300 per year by offering the products people want at affordable prices in one convenient place.

We think those are valuable things we do for the working families of Maryland. And we're planning to do more. We will build more stores, create more jobs, offer even more affordable health care, generate more tax revenue, do more business with suppliers and give more money to local charities. Though the General Assembly passed a bill that affects our company and our company alone, we will not flinch in our commitment to our customers, our associates and the communities we serve. Working families want us in Maryland, and we're staying in Maryland.

That's not to say that the bill state legislators passed wasn't bad public policy. It was. And we're not the only people who think that. Dozens of experts, academics, business leaders, government leaders and editorial pages from the District of Columbia to Washington state agree that this bill and similar ones popping up in other states aren't solutions. Consider this fact: According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, almost every large business in the United States offers health insurance to its employees, yet only six in 10 small businesses are able to do the same. Clearly, any policy that singles out large employers -- much less a single large employer -- ignores the reality that businesses of all sizes are struggling to deal with the soaring cost of health care in America. Still, we will of course comply with the laws of Maryland.

A lot of people also think -- and we agree -- that legislation of this type will cost jobs. We will do our best to make sure that doesn't happen at our company. Last year we created 125,000 jobs nationwide -- many of them in neighborhoods that desperately need jobs. Just as an example, after the recent announcement of a new store in Chicago, we received 25,000 applications for just 325 jobs. We'll work hard to continue to find opportunities to serve our customers and operate more efficiently. This will generate more sales and savings for our company. But will other companies be able to do the same and absorb the higher cost of employing their workers? With other state legislatures considering bills that apply to more and more companies in addition to Wal-Mart, we may find out, and unfortunately the result won't be good for working families.

State legislators across the country are facing some tough challenges -- and even tougher choices. We recognize that. And we believe that the vast majority of legislators have a sincere interest in finding real solutions to the problems facing the working families they serve. We're doing our best to do our part by, among other things, creating tens of thousands of new jobs every year and offering more affordable health coverage to our associates.

We hope elected leaders at all levels can agree that pitting large businesses against small businesses, the private sector against the public sector, or one group of Americans against another won't solve any of the problems facing our country. Health care, education, global competitiveness, energy independence -- these are big and historic challenges. The only way we're going to tackle them is, if at the end of every day, we can look back and say what Sam Walton used to say: "We're all working together; that's the secret."

The writer is president and chief executive of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company