- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 22, 2011

D.C. officials and Wal-Mart agreed to an “unprecedented” community-benefits package on Tuesday that should ease the retail giant’s controversial entry into the nation’s capital.

Although it had no obligation to sign a deal, the Arkansas-based retailer agreed to a Community Partnership Initiative that says it will find D.C. residents for the majority of the 1,800 jobs that are expected to be created when it opens six stores citywide in the next several years and that it will not sell guns or ammunition in the District, despite the store being the nation’s largest firearms seller.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray praised the agreement and said Wal-Mart is “showing what it means to be a good corporate neighbor.” The deal consummates more than a year of discussions and 100 community meetings on the retailer’s efforts to gain a foothold in the D.C. market.

“We recognized that D.C. is like no other city in the nation,” Wal-Mart spokesman Steven Restivo said. “There’s a number of neighborhoods and communities within the city itself.”

It is the first time the District has struck an agreement of its kind, in which a large retailer offered incentives to the city instead of the other way around.

“This is a completely voluntary agreement,” said Jose Sousa, spokesman for the deputy mayor for planning and economic development. “There was no legal requirement for Wal-Mart to participate in this initiative in the way that they have.”

Last week, Mr. Gray praised Wal-Mart’s decision to open two additional stores in the city — at Fort Totten Square in Ward 4 and at Skyland Town Center in Ward 7 — in addition to four previously approved stores in Wards 4, 5, 6 and 7. He said parties were working on a deal to make sure Wal-Mart looked to D.C. residents first when filling its positions, but he could not offer details at the time.

D.C. officials said they are confident that D.C. residents could secure a large percentage of the jobs, exceeding the minimum of 50 percent outlined in the agreement.

The agreement says Wal-Mart will establish job fairs to recruit D.C. residents to positions in all six stores, invest $21 million in local charities over the next seven years; form a committee to engage with communities near the stores; recruit local retailers, like coffee shops, to offer ancillary services inside the stores; and commit $2 million to build bus stops, bus shelters and Capital Bikeshare stands near the stores.

The city had little leverage for the overall deal, because it did not provide a subsidy or other benefits to the retailer. However, the deal should give Wal-Mart a smoother entry into the city, even if it does not go far enough to appease Wal-Mart’s opponents, who demanded a so-called “living wage” and other benefits.

The agreement does not make any wage guarantees, although store officials have promised to provide wages that are competitive with area retailers.

Wal-Mart’s agreement bans the sale of firearms at its D.C. stores, a decision that reflects the city’s restrictive gun laws. Mr. Restivo noted the retailer signed onto a 10-point code from the Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition that “will help ensure that guns do not fall into the wrong hands.”

Wal-Mart made previous commitments to the city, including six grocery stores at its locations, the creation of 600 construction jobs and the establishment of a $3 million job-skills program for D.C. residents.



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