Walmart and Target say they help communities overcome health issues and the ill effects of poverty but the reverse is true.Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s Stacey Mitchell writes about the difference between communities with thriving local economies and those dominated by Big Box retail giants:
… study found that counties dominated by a few big firms have … less engaged citizens than those in which economic activity is dispersed across many locally owned businesses. “We find that residents of communities with highly concentrated economies (ed note: where big box stores predominate) tend to vote less and are less likely to keep up with local affairs, participate in associations, engage in reform efforts or participate in protest activities at the same levels as their counterparts in economically dispersed environments (ed note: where small businesses proliferate)…”.
Sociologists Stephan Goetz and Anil Rupasingha have linked this decline in civic participation to Walmart specifically. With each Walmart store that opens, social capital erodes, their research finds. Communities with more Walmart stores have lower voter turnout and fewer active nonprofit organizations. In their latest study, published in June, they’ve documented a correlation between Walmart and the presence of hate groups.
Still other research has linked the regional market share of large retail chains with higher rates of poverty, infant mortality, and crime.
Why is local ownership so nourishing to the social and civic fabric of communities? One (reason is) local business owners themselves. Their personal and financial interests are tied to the community’s well-being and, as a result, they are often active in various civic endeavors. While small business owners gain prestige and influence by contributing to community improvement, corporate managers garner status by advancing the company’s interest, even at the expense of the community.
Another reason is that cities with a strong entrepreneurial culture and local control of economic resources have more capacity to solve problems on their own and are more resilient and adaptable in times of distress. Those that are dependent on outside corporations have little ability to marshal resources to overcome challenges.