Not everyone cheering Wal-Mart's 4,000 new SC jobs

Published: May. 6, 2011 at 5:44 PM EDT|Updated: May. 9, 2011 at 11:39 AM EDT
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By Jack Kuenzie - bio | email

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Retail giant Wal-mart led a group of small businesses in the fight against tax collection breaks for Amazon. Now, some are wondering if those same businesses could be hurt by a Wal-Mart expansion.

John Petta is keeping a close eye on what's happening at the State House. It could determine his future, because Petta has been in training since February to become a plant manager for Amazon.

The plant where he would have been in charge was the million-square-foot fulfillment center Amazon was building near Cayce. But when House members voted down a critical tax break for Amazon, Petta's career hit a major roadblock.

"If you're a plant manager of Amazon, it presupposes you have a plant to run," said Petta.

After the vote, Amazon canceled more than $50 million in contracts and stopped hiring for the Midlands operation. Petta lives in Lexington County, and says his neighbors can't understand why the deal failed.

"It's universal," he said. "The people that have come up and talked to me, how they wish Amazon would come here. But that's really up to the people in the State House now.

Some Lexington County officials say lawmakers still have a chance to prevent Amazon from completely abandoning its project. Governor Nikki Haley, who opposed the tax break, even left the door open to Amazon during Wednesday's announcement that Wal-Mart is planning a major expansion in the state.

"We want Amazon in this state, but we want to keep a competitive playing field," said Haley. "So what we are doing is we're continuing to talk with them. We are continuing to reach out with Amazon and see what we can do to make it work."

A spokesman for South Carolina's small businesses says if Amazon goes for good, the company should give back the land it got as an incentive to build here.

"That was part of the deal," said Frank Knapp of the SC Small Business Chamber of Commerce. "We give them the $4 million of property, and they build the facility. So if they're going to pull out after we kept our word on everything that was written down, they need to give that property back or South Carolina taxpayers deserve it back through litigation."

Last week, Haley criticized the amazon tax break proposal. She also noted retail jobs, like those at amazon, involve high turnover and lower pay. "retail by nature is not solid," the governor said, adding that amazon is "not a Boeing, not a BMW."
But on Wednesday, Haley praised the 4,000 retail jobs Wal-Mart says will be created here. Her spokesman says the difference is that Wal-Mart did not ask for or receive any incentives.

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