Worth Hardware, downtown fixture for 37 years, is one small business that stands to loose business when Wal-Mart opens in Sylvester. (Staff Photo: Brad McEwen)
SYLVESTER — The Worth County Development Authority recently completed the sale of 7.33 acres of land at that corner of Seabrook Drive and U.S. Highway 82 to Wal-Mart, opening the door for the retailer to build a store in Sylvester.
According to development authority board chairman Daniel Nesbit, the sale was completed on Oct. 1 after the authority received a payment of $366,550.
Once open, Nesbit estimates the store will create more than 75 jobs for the community.
“Seventy-five plus jobs, that’s huge,” Nesbit said. “That’s what drives an EDA.”
EDA Executive Director Karen Rackley echoed Nesbit’s sentiment, stating that with nearly 65 percent of Sylvester residents working out of town, having that many people now working inside the city limits will help drive retail sales and sales taxes for the town.
“A considerable number of our folks work out town,” said Rackley. “Not working out of town, the spending likely stays in town.”
Rackley figures the store will generate nearly $65,000 in annual ad valorem tax and an estimated $56,000 in additional inventory tax revenue.
Nesbit said it was the sizable revenue and important job creation that made the deal so attractive when the EDA was approached by the company earlier this year.
“We see it as a good thing for the county,” Nesbit said. “This is a step toward progress right here.”
Despite the potential positive impact the store will create for Sylvester and Worth County, there are those who are disappointed and see Walmart’s arrival as another hindrance to the survival of small businesses in the community.
“I just hate to see them come,” said Irvin Hatcher, owner of Worth Hardware. “It’s really going to hurt. People don’t trade with the local merchants.”
Hatcher, who opened the hardware store nearly 40 years ago, said that his business has already been hurt by Walmart locations in Albany and Tifton. Once the store in Sylvester opens, Hatcher feels it might mean the end of his business outright.
“It’s terrible,” lamented Hatcher. “I’m 81 years old. I may just have to go home. I’ve already done anything I could. If it wasn’t for my barbershop we wouldn’t be doing much of anything right now.”
When asked how his operation might hope to compete, Hatcher said his prices on most things are about the same as what he sees in Walmart. What Walmart doesn’t have, he said, is expertise on how to use the products.
“I have a lot of customers that come in that don’t know how to do plumbing, or electrical, so I lead them through it,” Hatcher explained. “I don’t think they’ll have anybody there to do that.”
While a store like Hatcher’s may suffer when Walmart opens, many in the community feel the deal is in the best interest of Worth County. Nesbit and Hatcher both point to the fact that the county is making no special concessions for the retailer.
“We did not approach them, they approached us,” said Nesbit. “We offered them nothing, no perks.”
Nesbit was also quick to point out that on top of the revenue that will be generated, the deal also helped alleviate debt since the development authority, as opposed to a private party, was able to sell land to Walmart. Rackley said the payment went directly to pay down on a $2 million the development authority has with Southwest Georgia Banking Company, bringing that balance near $650,000.
Even with the positive economic impact, Rackley said she understands some members of the community are not pleased with the decision.
“We’re sympathetic to their concerns,” Rackley said. “Our chamber and our EDA support our local businesses any way we can. That won’t change. We’re trying to do the best we can for our community.”
Nesbit then added that the development authority board is not paid and he believes is made up of people wanting to do the best thing to help Worth County succeed.
“We have a really good board,” said Nesbit. “I think we have an excellent board, I really do. We discuss things and at the end of the day we usually come to a solid decision.”
There has been no announcement as to when the store might open, but Nesbit said the company has already applied for building permits and will likely begin clearing the land soon.
The Sylvester store will be approximately 75,000 square feet and will be comparable with the company’s Camilla location. There are no plans to build a gas station on the site.