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Walmart may boost city economy if not region's

It's easy to exaggerate the economic effects of retail projects. Store developers like to boast about jobs created and projected spending and so forth. But retailing is the tail on the economic dog. Consumer spending pretty much is what it is, and a few more or less stores in a region won't change that. Stacy Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance puts it well in her comments on the proposed Walmart and Lowe's project in Baltimore's Remington section.

The relevant geography for Baltimore policymakers, however, isn't necessarily the region. Baltimore has not shared equally in the region's prosperity in recent decades. The boom in Howard County, for example, has not helped Baltimore that much. One of City Council's top tasks should be pulling regional development back inside city borders. That's what the 25th Street Station project is supposed to be about.

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A new Lowe's and a new Walmart in Remington won't increase regional retail sales or regional employment. They may, however, shift retail sales and employment back inside the city by attracting shoppers who now drive to big box stores in Baltimore County. I'd say that's a reason to OK the project, despite the generous tax breaks being offered.

Opponents including Mitchell may disagree, partly because Walmart's higher productivity may mean fewer jobs per sales dollar than in the stores it displaces. They also note correctly that some of those displaced stores and lost jobs will be in Baltimore. But as I've argued, the net effect on the city should be positive.

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I couldn't find Mitchell's letter online, so I have reproduced it in full below.

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