Wal-Mart may not be everybody's idea of an angel of deliverance. Yet authorities in Florida are counting on a new Wal-Mart distribution center to reverse the fortunes of DeSoto County, where post-Hurricane Charley unemployment has hit a whopping 13.2 percent—the secondhighest rate in Florida.
Hopes are high that the county's unemployment rate will ease significantly once the Bentonville Behemoth opens the 900,000-squarefoot facility on 189 acres of what was once farm land. The DC is expected to become the largest employer in DeSoto County, employing nearly 1,000 workers. Though Wal-Mart officials ran into construction and hiring delays due to Hurricane Charley, officials have worked overtime to recruit workers, many of whom begin training this month for jobs that reportedly pay in the $15 per hour range plus benefits.
That estimate of 1,000 employees is 400 more than Wal-Mart expected to hire when it began planning for the DC two years ago. But booming business in the area has forced the retailer to revise its employment forecast. Consider that just two years ago the retailer had an 8.8-percent share of grocery sales in Florida's Sarasota-Bradenton market. By February,Wal-Mart's share had nearly doubled to 16.1 percent with the same number of stores, according to the trade magazine Market Scope.
Although Wal-Mart has been tight-lipped about the level of automation in the DC, it is believed the facility will be one of the more hightech of the 100 or so DCs the company operates. The retailer expects to begin receiving supplies at the DC in April.