The Case of the Big Box Retailer
Since Paul Cassidy was elected as a planning commissioner he saw a great increase in population to his little city of Hooterville. But then the housing bubble burst and Hooterville witnessed a downturn in the economy which forced some tough choices.
The state announced significant cuts in funds to cities, local revenues had fallen 20% in the past two years, and all departments except public safety had reduced costs. Even after deferring and delaying certain projects, a significant shortfall remained, which meant that the teen center (an important center which kept at risk youth concentrated on school work and off the streets) would be completed but not opened, and the hours at the library would be reduced significantly.
Given the circumstances, Cassidy and his colleagues were thrilled to learn that the city's economic development team had attracted a tenant for the undeveloped site at the southern city limit. A well-known discount chain proposed building their first SuperShop megastore in the region, which would draw customers from a wide area. In addition to selling the standard discounted items, the new store would include many service amenities, including a pharmacy, dry cleaner, florist, bakery, even an on-site dentist. In addition to the property taxes that would be paid by the store, SuperShop promised to generate immediate sales tax revenues that would provide at least $250,000 a year in additional funds to the city, provide 100 new jobs, and put Hooterville "on the map."
Cassidy and his colleagues were struggling with the decision, and the public was evenly divided in terms of support for, or opposition to, the project. The environmental community expressed concern over the impact on air and water quality, and argued for a less-intense development on the site. Others were concerned that the tax breaks for the store were for ten years. After that, would they move on and leave this giant building behind? The residents along Highway 480, where the center would be located, were upset about the increase in traffic that a regional superstore would generate. But the most emotional arguments were from the group of small-business owners in Hooterville’s traditional downtown who felt threatened by the new retail presence.
"We build our lives around our businesses," said Mai Nguyen, a local florist. "This project is going to kill us."
The city council had heard that the discount chain wanted to build in the region and might choose one of two adjacent towns if Hooterville resisted.
What considerations should guide Hooterville vote on this issue? Whose interests should be weighed most heavily?
Adopted from Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, Santa Clara University