All across California, we're finding that the more people learn facts about Wal-Mart — as opposed to the kind of urban myths recently peddled in these pages by Martin J. Bennett ("Time to stop the Wal-Mart supercenter," Close to Home, Feb. 15) — the more they see the value in bringing a store to their community .
For example, our stores provide a broad assortment of products at an everyday low price. Our wages and benefits meet or exceed those offered by a majority of our competitors. And our stores are often magnets for growth and development all across the country.
For these reasons and more, many members of the community are excited about the proposed expansion of our Wal-Mart in Rohnert Park. As a partner here for more than 20 years, we've provided residents with employment opportunities and more affordable shopping options.
From a jobs perspective, here's what our critics don't get that our customers and our associates already know: Entry-level jobs often lead to bigger jobs. Our average, hourly full-time wage in the state is $12.89. At Wal-Mart, you can climb the ladder from a stocker to a department manager to a store manager and beyond. About 75 percent of our store management started as hourly associates, and they earn between $50,000 and $170,000 a year. In fact, every year at Wal-Mart we promote about 170,000 people to jobs with more responsibility and higher pay.
We insure one million people, and our lowest medical plan is $17 per paycheck, half the national average for single coverage per pay period. The plan includes no lifetime maximum for covered expenses and preventative care covered at 100 percent.
What's more, Wal-Mart stores often serve as magnets for other new businesses, large and small. The small businesses that surround our stores generally have products and services we don't offer or are strong in areas where we can't compete. Here in California, independent research has shown that, on average, communities with a Wal-Mart enjoy general business growth and an increase in citywide taxable retail sales.
Bennett relies on a flawed study from Chicago to try to prove the contrary, but anyone who has walked the neighborhoods around our west side store there knows Chicago is a terrific example of our positive impact. Since we opened our doors there in 2006, we've helped attract close to two dozen new businesses to the surrounding neighborhood.
Additionally we have a long-standing relationship with area nonprofits, supporting Golden State organizations to help improve the lives of Californians. In 2011 alone, cash and in-kind donations from California stores, clubs and the Wal-Mart Foundation reached $28.9 million. Wal-Mart has donated thousands of dollars in support to Sonoma County nonprofits including Solar Sonoma County, the Redwood Empire Food Bank, the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition and other community groups over the past two decades. We're proud of the contributions we make in communities throughout Sonoma County — from creating jobs and generating tax revenue to helping customers save and contributing to local nonprofits — and look forward to talking more about the difference we make every day in Rohnert Park.
Our commitment won't change, and we'll continue to focus on things residents care about such as jobs and healthier foods as well as to seek opportunities to support programs that make a positive impact on the communities where we do business.
Steven Restivo is senior director of communications for Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. He is based in New Jersey.