Although the suddenness of Wal-Mart’s decision to close its Hillsboro Neighborhood Market took many area residents by surprise, that won’t sour area economic development folks on encouraging outside-owned businesses to come to Marion County.
On Friday, Wal-Mart announced the closure of 154 stores in the nation, including the store at Hillsboro.
“It’s never an easy decision to close stores, but the reality is it’s a common practice in retail,” Director of Communications Delia Garcia said.
Garcia said companies try new services and formats. The Hillsboro Wal-Mart was part of a pilot launched to respond to customers’ changing habits and demands. The company discovered customers want more assortment than the stores offered, Garcia said.
“This is a step we needed to take in managing the portfolio of stores we have across the country and the world,” Garcia said.
Clint Seibel, executive director of Hillsboro Development Corporation, said that without outside owners operating businesses in Hillsboro, the community “would not have a lot of things we now have.”
That list includes fast food business, a tractor dealership, car dealerships, medical clinics and dental clinics as well as the local hospital.
“About 20-25 percent of our businesses are owned out of county,” Seibel said. “We only have one locally-owned bank out of three banks and one credit union.”
Seibel said local economic developers always think businesses are secure. They look for ways to fill gaps in community needs.
“We’re always disappointed to see business close and looking for ways to keep our economy going,” Seibel said.
Marion Mayor Todd Heitschmidt lists several businesses owned by people outside the county. Prairieland Partners, Straub International, Bradberry, Casey’s, Ace Hardware, Dollar General and Pizza Hut are among them.
Heitschmidt said other stores in Marion owned by companies based outside the county seem to be stable, and the community will continue to recruit businesses that would fill community needs.
“We’d like to have some more gas stations,” Heitschmidt said. “We’re thinking of some places like Casey’s where people can get gas and a bite to eat.”
Heitschmidt said he’s not sure the Hillsboro Wal-Mart store was in business long enough to know if it was a success.
“I’m surprised how quickly they closed it,” he said.
Heitschmidt said that in addition to losing a Hillsboro store, the county is losing a big contributor to Marion County Food Bank and Resource Center.
Food Bank Board Chairman Gerry Henderson said Hillsboro Wal-Mart donated a sufficient supply of meat to the food bank that the agency ended up purchasing little to none to stock the freezer.
“They gave 100-270 pounds of meat every Thursday,” Henderson said.
Additionally, Wal-Mart donated bakery goods.
“It will affect us,” Henderson said. “I’m not worried about that because in the time we’ve been here, since May, I’ve learned that when one supplier goes away, God provides us another one.”
Mainstreet Ministries in Hillsboro could not be reached for comment on Wal-Mart’s impact on their food bank.
Heitschmidt added that corporations sometimes make decisions for other reasons.
“Truly on the Wal-Mart deal there are other things internationally going on,” Heitschmidt said. “Wal-Mart recently made some decisions to reduce their holding in China. Their decision probably was not solely based on their experiments here with these smaller stores.”