Is It The Government's Place To Pick And Choose?

The City of Minot will be getting another Walmart location thanks to the city council approving the store’s plans to build it. The location will be on the north side of the city, which will be nice for the folks who live there. For a long time the commerce centers of the centers have been on the south side, which has been problematic especially after the flood (which divided the city north and south) showed just how few places there are to purchase groceries and other items in north Minot.

So the new Walmart, along with other development, will bring much-needed commerce to the northern part of the city, something that should also cut down on cross-town traffic congestion, a growing problem with the oil boom bringing new people to the city.

But the approval of Walmart didn’t come without controversy. Last month some of Walmart’s competitors in the city, the owners of the Marketplace Foods grocery stores who are also building a new location in north Minot, tried to argue that Walmart would bring too much traffic and other problems.

Wal-Mart isn’t cooperating with the city, said John Meyers of Bemidji, Minn., president of Pace Development, which is building the new MarketPlace Foods at 21st Avenue and 16th Street Northwest.

“I don’t think they have answered all the questions, nor do I think they are participating in solving your problems,” he said. “I don’t think that’s the kind of company you want participating in making North Hill grow.”

Right. It’a also the sort of store Mr. Meyers doesn’t want to compete with. I think perhaps I’ll stop shopping at Marketplace stores.

But that brings me to the point of the post. At last night’s council meeting at which Walmart got the green light to build, councilwoman Amy Moen said she couldn’t support the project because Minot can “choose to be picky.”

“A month ago, I would have said I would have voted for this project. But I have done a lot of soul searching and I have done a lot of research,” council member Amy Moen said. “Will a second Walmart store draw new shoppers to Minot? Is there an economic benefit to having a second Walmart in Minot? No. Every penny will go out of state.”

Moen said Minot doesn’t need a Walmart to provide jobs or business competition.

“When Walmart opened its first store in Minot over 15 year ago, we needed it. The economy was stagnant, and we were thrilled to have any large retailer come to our city. But we aren’t the same city,” she said. “Minot is now in a position where we can choose to be picky, and we can say no.”

The idea that “every penny” Walmart makes will go “out of state” is ridiculous. Walmart will pay wages to local workers and managers, and also pay local vendors for goods and services. Walmart’s competition will help keep prices down (again, no doubt why Marketplace didn’t want them in their neighborhood) which is a benefit to the entire community.

But more disturbing is that Councilwoman Moen seems to think it’s her job to be “picky” about which businesses move into town. That is a grossly inappropriate statement. It isn’t the government’s place to pick and choose. It is the government’s place to develop policy, and then apply it equitably.

Unfortunately, in local government, it often seems as though we have far too many people with Moen’s attitude.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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