Maryland legislators to unemployed: screw you!

Wal-Mart rethinks plans to build a distribution center and hire 800 people after legislators pass an anti-Wal-Mart health care law:

Unfortunately, in Somerset, the new law looks more like a body blow than a "swipe." The rural county is Maryland's poorest, with per capita personal income 46% below the state average and a poverty rate 130% above it. Somerset's enduring problem is weak labor demand that greatly limits its 25,250 residents' economic opportunities.

There are just 0.8 jobs per household in Somerset, barely half the 1.5 figure that applies to the rest of the state. Somerset's top 10 list of employers features sectors like food services (average annual compensation per employee: $9,637), poultry and egg production ($14,320) and seafood preparation and packaging ($19,190).

It is hard to exaggerate how much the planned distribution center might have meant to Somerset's economy. Using an input-output model, we forecast the "ripple effects" of the new income and spending that could have emanated from Wal-Mart's facility as follows:

• The center's 800 employees would have created an additional 282 jobs among "upstream" suppliers and "downstream" retailers and service establishments; all told, the center would have boosted county employment by 14% and private-sector employment by 20%.

• Total annual employee compensation in Somerset would have risen by $46.5 million, or 19%.

• Annual output (or "gross county product") would have risen by $128.3 million, or 19%.

• State and local tax receipts would have increased by $19.2 million annually; this would include $8.5 million in property taxes, $5.6 million in sales taxes, and $1.4 million in personal income taxes.

Those losses, though dramatic, probably understate the full extent of the damage in this case. They do not include forgone employment and income from construction of the facility and related infrastructure improvements. What is more, Wal-Mart's tentative plans for a second distribution center in Garrett County, in mountainous western Maryland, also appear dead. Garrett, with a poverty rate that is 70% above the state's, is only slightly better off than Somerset.

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