From the front page of this past Sunday's Phila. Inquirer: Wal-Mart is now PA's top employer, w/ 39,000 employee's.
There was a graph that showed employment stats:
W-M 39,000 employees
University of Penn 25,000
Giant Foods 17,000
US Airways 16,000
Posted on Sun, Oct. 20, 2002
Pa.'s 'new economy' crowns Wal-Mart its employment king
By Bob Fernandez
Inquirer Staff Writer
Twelve years of explosive growth in Pennsylvania have made Wal-Mart Stores Inc., with 114 discount outlets, the largest private employer in the state.
To almost everyone, the news comes as a complete surprise.
Universities, steel companies, railroads, drug manufacturers, the phone company, and airlines have been the employment mainstays of Pennsylvania for decades. They offered good wages and career advancement.
But many large Pennsylvania companies hurt by imports and new technologies shed jobs in the 1990s. Few new companies emerged to take their place.
Filling this vacuum was Wal-Mart, which plastered the Pennsylvania countryside with its big-box stores and hired tens of thousands to staff them.
In doing so, Wal-Mart - which starts store clerks at $7 to $8 an hour - rose to the top of the employment heap, according to a little-known ranking by the state's Department of Labor and Industry.
There is a Wal-Mart store in virtually every county in the commonwealth, and in many areas there are stores within 20 or 30 minutes' driving distance. The company employs 39,000 in its 94 Supercenters and discount stores, and its 20 Sam's Clubs, and is still building. The company also operates four distribution centers statewide.
"It's a good market for us," Wal-Mart spokeswoman Sharon Weber said. "You can't ask for a better trade territory than Pennsylvania," she said, alluding to Wal-Mart's ability to build stores and draw from a wide area for shoppers.
"We are not going to put a store in a place where the customers don't want us."
Hundreds of state roads through rural areas and suburbs, in addition to plentiful open land for stores and parking lots, were a perfect combination for the chain.
Wal-Mart opened a Supercenter in West Sadsbury Township in May, and a discount store and Sam's Club in Exton in August. All are in Chester County.
How Wal-Mart's expansion has changed the state's economic landscape, and its perception of itself, is hard to grasp.
In the state's industrial past, a sizable number of Pennsylvania workers could be portrayed as working in steel mills or coal mines, wearing safety hard hats, and carrying metal lunch boxes.
In the recent past, they could be portrayed as professional workers dressed in white lab coats and toiling in drug-research labs or universities.
They dress in blue vests with a cheery "How May I Help You?" on the back. They retrieve carts from parking lots, give friendly shopping advice, and operate check-out registers.
The company has bumped the University of Pennsylvania from its long-held position as the largest private employer in the state. Penn is second with about 25,000 faculty and staff.
Giant Food Stores L.L.C., the supermarket chain, has overtaken US Airways Group Inc., which is shrinking as it works its way out of bankruptcy, as the state's third-largest.
Wal-Mart's expansion into Pennsylvania was part of a store-building binge in the United States that made the Arkansas retailer one of the nation's largest companies. It is known for its efficient distribution and warehouse network, and hardball competitive tactics.
The company already has higher sales than General Motors Corp., and the heirs of its founder, Sam Walton, are some of the richest people in the nation. In Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Oklahoma and West Virginia, as well as in Pennsylvania, it is the largest private employer, according to economy.com.
Unions have opposed Wal-Mart's expansion in Pennsylvania from the start. They have said that nonunion Wal-Mart jobs were low-wage and dead-end, and destroyed higher-paying positions at competing stores in downtown areas and older shopping plazas.
"I thought we were doing a good job of keeping them out of here," said Wendell Young, president of Local 1776 of the United Food and Commercial Workers, who has fought new Wal-Mart stores throughout the eastern part of Pennsylvania. "These old department stores are dead in the water because of Wal-Mart," he said.
Others say that Wal-Mart has helped the state's economy. It offered employment in depressed parts of the state and hired large numbers while Pennsylvania's economy was in a pronounced slowdown.
Moreover, Wal-Mart added to the state's standard of living by offering low-priced merchandise to consumers, supporters say.
"I don't go on a crusade about saving the mom-and-pop stores," said Floyd Warner, president of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry in Harrisburg. "They weren't always open. Their prices were higher. They have to learn how to survive."
Pennsylvania's economy has gone through painful restructuring over the last two decades.
Wal-Mart's growth in the 1990s came as Scott Paper, USX Corp., Bell Atlantic, Westinghouse, Bethlehem Steel Corp., Conrail, and other traditional Pennsylvania companies laid off thousands of workers and severely curtailed their operations. They were replaced by smaller manufacturers, food processors, service companies and technology firms.
"The USX's of the world are a shadow of what they were in Pennsylvania. There is no company that is synonymous with Pennsylvania," Warner said.
This set the stage for Wal-Mart's ascendancy, and the company established a foothold in the central part of the state. The chain opened its first store in York in 1990, and others followed in 1991 in Lewistown, Meadville, Wyomissing, Harrisburg, Everett, Lewisburg, Hermitage and Gettysburg.
Wal-Mart's position as the largest employer in Pennsylvania "is a powerful symbol that we have a new economy, not an old economy. But it does raise the question as to whether the new economy will deliver for ordinary workers," said Stephen Herzenberg, executive director and economist with the Keystone Research Center, an independent research group in Harrisburg.
One place that illustrates Wal-Mart's new importance to the Pennsylvania economy is Clearfield County, which is west of Pennsylvania State University on Interstate 80.
Wal-Mart has a discount store, a Supercenter and a distribution center that together employ 1,500, said Rob Swales, economic-development specialist with the Clearfield County Development Authority. It is the largest employer in the county.
Many Wal-Mart employees are laid off from textile mills, brick refractories, tanneries and coal mines. The county has an 8.3 percent unemployment rate.
Swales said the North American Free Trade Agreement, which was implemented in 1994, , "took a huge blow to Clearfield County. Dozens of factories closed."
Wal-Mart might pay less than other companies, but the jobs are steady, Swales said. He said jobs in Wal-Mart's distribution center paid $10 to $12 an hour.
Wal-Mart has expanded unevenly in the United States. It employs 9,700 workers in New Jersey, making it the 21st-largest employer there, according to a published report. Sears and Federated Department Stores remain larger. In Delaware, Wal-Mart employs 2,290.
The company says that nationwide it has a payroll of more than one million people, and that 70 percent of its workers are full-time. The company said it offers its employees health-care benefits. "We're a big family," spokeswoman Weber said.
Wal-Mart expects to open a 15th location in the Philadelphia area in Kennett Square, Chester County, next year. Its first push came in Fairless Hills, Bucks County, in 1993. Other stores followed in Bucks and Montgomery Counties. One opened in South Philadelphia in 1995 and in Northeast Philadelphia in 1998. Stores opened in Delaware and Chester Counties this year and last.
In addition to low-priced goods, stores have expanded to offer services that include money-wire transfers between stores, gift layaways and eye exams.
The new Supercenters are several football fields in size and offer 100,000 items, ranging from frozen turkeys and tires to intimate apparel. They are part of Wal-Mart's strategy to take retail sales away from supermarkets.
One of the newest Supercenters opened at Routes 10 and 30 in West Sadsbury Township, between the towns of Coatesville and Gap.
According to the state job listing, Wal-Mart offered new employees there a starting wage of $7 an hour. But the starting wage could be higher, based on experience, the company said.
Tom Sullivan, assistant store manager, said Wal-Mart interviewed 1,000 to 1,200 applicants for the 400 jobs. Many of the applicants were stay-at-home mothers who wanted to return to work, older workers, teenagers, or people who needed a second job.
Shannon Bicking, 30, said she took a job as a department manager in Wal-Mart because her former position as an auditor was too stressful. She has four children, and she said Wal-Mart allowed for flexible schedules. "If I need a day off at work during the week to do something at school, I just work on the weekend," she said.
The store is typical Wal-Mart - with a bow to local customs.
The store's shelves, pulsating with bargains, beckon customers for miles. There is even a covered four-carriage stall for Amish buggies in the parking lot.
Contact Bob Fernandez at 215-854-5897 or firstname.lastname@example.org.