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We're Mad and We're Not Going to Take it Anymore

Posted: 07/23/09 12:37 PM ET

Every resident living south of Madison Street should be in an uproar! Many of our neighborhoods are suffering in well documented food deserts and increasing violence, yet we are slamming our doors to the one food retailer who is ready, willing and able to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in our poorest neighborhoods without asking for any financial incentives?

Walmart wants to build a store with fresh groceries in my ward, at the new Chatham Market development - a development that currently houses a Lowes and Potbelly but the remainder of this large site sits empty. The proposed store will create at least 400 new jobs, stimulate economic development, and generate millions in new taxes for the CTA/RTA, County and City. It will also assist in bringing other new retailers who have expressed interest but will not commit without the Walmart bringing additional jobs and tax revenues to the community.

In a poll conducted by McKeon & Associates in June, 2007, 82% of the residents in my ward wanted a Wal-Mart Supercenter built at Chatham Market so they could purchase their groceries, fresh fruits and vegetables and prescriptions at low prices - year round and in their own neighborhood.

If we are so worried about the escalating violence in our communities, why are we exporting to the suburbs the needed job opportunities and sales tax revenues new retail stores will provide? Every year, Chicago residents purchase more than $500 million worth of goods at Walmart stores outside Chicago. The residents of the three zip codes that comprise my ward spent $80 million at suburban Walmarts last year alone.

The City, economists and business organizations are all studying ways to eradicate the Chicago food deserts by luring grocery retailers to these under-served areas. We wouldn't need to provide any incentives to retailers to build stores in Chicago if we simply encouraged economic development the correct way -- provide a competitive retail environment without the threat of unreasonable and unfair wage mandates.

With approval from my colleagues, thousands of South Side residents gain access to fresh, affordable groceries, fruit and vegetables, 400-plus jobs, millions in tax revenues, a willing and generous community partner for our schools and charitable causes, a stimulated business environment and better property values. I encourage and implore each and every member of City Council to ignore the threats from the unions and listen to their heart and the voices of my constituents.

When Walmart's West Side store was approved in 2004, they asked us to judge them by their actions and not their words. They kept their promises and worked closely with Ald. Emma Mitts to ensure that the first Chicago store reflects the community. In addition to providing a nearby retail location for her constituents to shop, they have done what no other retailer has done in Chicago: the store was built with union labor, by an African-American female general contractor and a majority of minority subcontractors; they reached out to minority-owned Chicago businesses and developed a program to provide regional opportunities for local products; they have supported both Chicago and local West Side charitable and community organizations; they have provided over 400 new jobs ; and finally, they have provided over $10 million in new sales tax revenues for the state, city, county and CTA/RTA in just two years of operation. In addition, the store has become the economic engine for the community helping to land a new Menards, CVS, Bank of America, Harris Bank, Food4Less and Aldi - and more is coming.

Unlike most retailers including those under UFCW contracts, Walmart's workforce is comprised of about 60% full-time and 40% part-time associates. Walmart's average hourly wage in Illinois (not including management positions) is $12.00 an hour, and the health care plans and additional benefits offered to their full and part-time associates compares more than favorably to any union or other retailer's plans.

My constituents want a Walmart in our community - they spoke loud and clear in the last Aldermanic election when the unions worked tirelessly and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to try to defeat me. Less than 14% of Chicagoans are members of organized labor -- why are we allowing a few to stall the quality of life and good health of so many Chicagoans? What a price so many will have to pay, for a long time.

If you are as mad as I am, call your Alderman and let him or her know that we're tired of others dictating what we can and can't have in our communities, and we're not going to take it anymore. We simply can no longer afford the cost.