Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Good for Wal-Mart? Good for America?

An article in the July, 2006 issue of Business 2.0 says Wal-Mart has begun issuing $1.5 million in grants to local businesses near Wal-Mart stores. The money, says the article, include "financial grants, ads, and training seminars for small firms near 10 of the 50 stores set to open in blighted urban areas over the next two years." Chambers of commerce in each city will get $50,000 donations and the $316 billion company will share internal reports on business trends.

Newspaper ads and internal radio spots will trumpet the donations and local aid, notes the article.

Is this good for Wal-Mart? For years, the company has been the focus of criticism from small business advocacy groups who claim Wal-Mart puts small "mom and pop" businesses OUT of business. But supporters say the company actually helps communities by increasing the tax base and attracting satellite stores who like the traffic the mega-stores generate.

This seems like a smart move to generate some positive PR, at least in those "blighted urban areas." The company already does a lot of good in small, and large, communities and donates thousands of dollars to local non-profits (something few people know about) and this kind of outreach can't hurt. But if the title of the Business 2.0 article is any indication - "Can Wal-Mart Buy Off the Neighbors?" - they have a long way to go to mend fences with critics.