The Herald-Tribune struck gold when asking Ball State University economist Michael Hicks, Ph.D., if the unsubstantiated rumor about Walmart opening a store in Batesville turns out to be true, how will that affect small businesses here?
“I wrote a book in 2007 called ‘The Local Economic Impact of Walmart,’” he confessed to a crowd of 50 gathered Dec. 11 at Hillcrest Country Club at an event co-hosted by the Ball State University Center for Business and Economic Research, which Hicks directs, and Hillenbrand Inc.
“Walmart itself is mostly not competing with small businesses,” the researcher reported. “What you usually see” after a Walmart opens is the closure of “another big box store” within 15 miles. As Walmart has become dominant, the fortunes of J.C. Penney and Sears have fallen, he pointed out.
“If there’s a punishment of Walmart coming to a town,” it’s when the discounter adds nearby outlot stores and eateries to compete with already established businesses located farther away. The Indiana Business Journalist weekly columnist observed, “Walmart loves to bring a Goody’s to town.” Since Batesville already has one, “I think you’ll see a fairly muted effect.”
He predicted if a small town shop provides goods that compete with Walmart’s, “you’ll get clobbered” because its prices tend to be low.
“With a Walmart, a town’s retail net employment “will be a little bit higher. We see very little wage effect in retail.” Because Walmart hires mostly part-time employees, 350-450 of those would be equivalent to 150 full-time employees.
Calling Batesville “an attractive community,” the director pointed out its schools and amenities should help workers at new companies want to settle here. “If you have a manufacturing facility in your community and you don’t have those workers living in your community, guess what your benefit is?” Very little was the answer.