Walmart Announces Jobs, $400M for South Carolina

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Wal-Mart Stores Inc. announced Wednesday that the discount retailer was bringing 4,000 new jobs to South Carolina, an investment of $400 million in the state over the next five years.

"We believe South Carolina is a great place for us to invest and a great place to grow," company CEO Bill Simon said at a news conference alongside Gov. Nikki Haley.

The announcement comes one week after another retail giant abandoned plans to build a distribution center in Lexington County, near Columbia. Last week, Amazon.com withdrew its plans for 1,250 full-time jobs and $100 million in investment after state lawmakers rejected efforts to give the Seattle-based company a break from collecting sales taxes.

The company had sought a five-year exemption from collecting sales taxes from South Carolina shoppers under a deal brokered with the Commerce Department under former Gov. Mark Sanford.

Haley, also a Republican, opposed the break, as did tea party activists and a coalition of retailers that Wal-Mart helped organize, and which bought TV ads railing against it. They argued a tax break was unfair to local retailers that must collect state sales taxes.

Haley said Wal-Mart's plans had been in the works for months and had nothing to do with Amazon's withdrawal.

"We want Amazon in this state, but we want to keep a competitive playing field," said Haley, adding that state officials were still in communication with Amazon.

Amazon vice president Paul Misener said last week he did not expect negotiations with state officials to resume.

Over the next five years, Wal-Mart plans to open at least a dozen new stores throughout South Carolina, as well as relocate and expand other existing stores, company spokesman Daniel Morales said. Stores in Fort Mill and Bennettsville are expected to open in mid-2012, existing stores on James Island and Hilton Head Island are expanding, and stores are relocating in Easley and Lake City, Morales said.

The company's planned investment brings Wal-Mart's total number of jobs in South Carolina to approximately 32,000. There are no plans to expand the Bentonville, Ark.-based company's distribution center near Greenville, Morales said.

"We want the new companies, but it is a treasure to look at the companies that we already have and say, what do we need to do to make them better?" Haley asked.

Morales said Wal-Mart sought no special tax incentives or deals as part of its commitment.

"We're not looking for anything like that," he said. "We're not getting any special carve-outs."

South Carolina's unemployment rate dropped below 10 percent for the first time in more than two years in March, measuring 9.9 percent. At the time, Haley - who took office in January - took some credit for the improved numbers, saying she was on the phone daily with businesses, encouraging them to locate in South Carolina or to expand their operations here.

Frank Knapp, chief executive of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce, said that small business owners wondering how to compete in areas where the retail giant is expanding need to remind their consumers of perks they can offer that bigger stores perhaps cannot.

"Small businesses have to learn how to compete with them on other things," Knapp said. "It's either service, convenience, something that the small business can do that maybe the big box store cannot. ... Now they have to either die or get creative and come up with another reason why people should shop with them."


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