Recently there were several Letters to the Editor questioning the actions of the City of Morris. While nobody has talked with me personally about these issues, I was encouraged by several people to respond. This is not typically the philosophy I have with regards to rumors and other pieces of information that seem to be fact-based and aren’t, but I see this as opportunity to provide some insight into economic development and the City.
The good news is that the City is very interested in economic development and does everything it can to make it happen. The bad news is that we have very little power or influence in the outcome, either way, businesses coming or businesses leaving. The writers suggest that the City of Morris kept business from coming here, to include Walmart. I can tell you personally that is not the truth. Walmart is a $trillion company and they will go where they want. They operate on a business model that establishes stores near their customer bases in strategic areas. Their whole model assumes people will travel to their stores from various distances. All you have to do is look at where they are located.
When Walmart decided to locate in the Wahpeton-Breckenridge area, one of the driving forces, no pun intended, was the number of people traveling to Fergus Falls to shop. Yes, they track where you come from to include license plate surveys in parking lots and written check addresses. They saw a tremendous number of people from the west heading to and through Wahpeton-Breckenridge and then on to Fergus Falls. They decided that a store located in the Wahpeton-Breckenridge area would be a good fit for them and draw even more people west. They also decided to build a new smaller, scaled-down store. The only issue in Wahpeton was North Dakota’s rule that pharmacies have to be at least 51% owned by a Pharmacist.
The next step for them, and the first time we had any indication of their desire to locate in the area (I was the City Clerk-Treasurer in Breckenridge at the time), was when a land acquisition company came out to survey potential store sites for Walmart. The primary site in Breckenridge was big enough, but had a major gas line running right through it. A secondary site next to it could work in conjunction with the primary site, but the owner of the secondary site also owned a much bigger primary site in Wahpeton. The store is located there today. We never talked to Walmart officials because they didn’t get involved until the right site was found.
There were no incentives to offer, and quite frankly, they tend not to ask for anything anyway. They certainly don’t need money and receiving incentives to bring them in tends to make the local business owners angry. You can imagine if the City of Morris offered incentives to bring in Walmart and local businesses were forced to close their doors. It would be a public relations nightmare for Walmart. However, there are cities that do pursue that route, but again you have to be in an area picked by them.
If Walmart wants to come here, they will. There is nothing we can do to stop them. There is no decision for the City Council to make. Our Zoning Ordinances don’t prohibit businesses like Walmart. There is also nothing to do to “lure” them in in my mind. It is a corporate business decision that they make. Maybe someday they will expand out into smaller cities. Right now they don’t have to because people will drive to them.
It was a corporate decision that resulted in Coborn’s packing up and leaving too. No, we didn’t own the building they were in or tell them they couldn’t build their own. They actually purchased land to build on, but decided not to and sold it. We didn’t deny them a liquor license because they never requested one.
Holiday owns the building and when Coborn’s lease came up, they didn’t want to stay in the same building. The building sits empty now and Holiday still wants a considerable amount for it. Potential new purchasers will look at the building and realize why Coborn’s left it. It needs updating. Coborn’s wanted to be the one stop shop for groceries and other things in Morris, but could not make that happen and decided to pull out. They were making money at the time they left.
As for Morris being too far gone to save, last time I checked we still have UMM, Superior, the USDA Soils Lab, and a U of M Research farm. We also have a wonder school system, all kinds of other jobs, and a lot more things we can be proud of in this economy. We have a great way of life and I think too many times we look at what is wrong and not at what is right. I’m still amazed that I can find almost everything I need here in Morris. You just have to look for it or ask for it. If you can’t find it, then maybe the question is whether or not you need it.