Verdict mixed on Wal-Mart's first year in Kodiak

Posted: Sunday, April 02, 2000

KODIAK (AP) -- Discount retailer Wal-Mart has been operating in Kodiak for a year now, and its impact on the local economy looks to be a mixed bag.

Some local stores have closed since Wal-Mart arrived on March 31, 1999, and others are struggling to adapt. But on the other hand, the city's tax revenue is up, prices and joblessness are down and wages are higher.

Wal-Mart employs 130 people, nearly all of them full-time. That has made competition for workers even stiffer in Kodiak's already tight job market.

''Beginning salaries have gone up and wages in general have increased over the past year in a variety of different occupations,'' said Doneen Tweten, who heads Kodiak's Job Service office.

The cost of living in Kodiak dropped significantly in the third quarter of 1999, according to figures from the city's Chamber of Commerce.

Kodiak's cost-of-living index declined to 138 in the quarter, down from 141.5 in the second quarter. The index, compiled by the American Chamber of Commerce Research Association, sets the median cost of living in 310 participating cities at 100.

Wayne Stevens, executive director of the Kodiak chamber, was cautious about the cost of living drop and the role Wal-Mart may have played.

''One quarter does not a trend make,'' Stevens said.

Economist Kenneth Stone studied Kodiak's retail trade and projected the impact of a big-box store like a Wal-Mart. He predicted that retail prices in the city could drop by as much as 10 percent and that retail sales would likely increase, boosting local tax revenue.

Quarterly retail sales rose more than $13 million in the first six months after Wal-Mart opened, according to city figures.

The city's retail community has been restructuring their inventories to fill needs Wal-Mart doesn't satisfy.

Sutliff's Hardware, near the small boat harbor, has expanded its stock of plumbing and electrical supplies, and it built a computerized paint center.

''We're also expanding our Made-in-Alaska lines for visitors,'' said Sherie Crosby, a store manager.

The local Sears outlet is closing its bed and bath department, and is broadening its selection of high-end power tools.

Carrying niche goods that Wal-Mart doesn't sell and providing bettre customer service is the only way small businesses can compete, Stone said.

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