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Wal-Mart center will employ 600

Friday, September 28, 2001

By Teresa F. Lindeman, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the country's largest retailer, has decided to build an 880,000-square-foot grocery distribution center near Steubenville, Ohio, that will employ 600 within three years after opening.

The sprawling complex, estimated to cost about $40 million, will support 80 to 100 stores within a 300-mile region. It's expected to open with about 400 employees in spring 2003.

Wal-Mart built its company selling discount clothes, electronics and other general merchandise items, but has been moving heavily into the food sector in recent years. This year alone, the company is likely to open between 170 and 180 of its supercenters -- traditional discount stores attached to a full-line grocery.

In looking for a distribution site, the Arkansas-based chain searched several states before settling on the Tri-State area of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia where it's been expanding rapidly.

The winner is a piece of property in Island Creek Township, just west of Steubenville.

Wal-Mart representatives toured the land in March, said Rick Platt, director of Alliance 2000, an economic development group serving Jefferson County, Ohio.

Platt said he learned of the search from a Pittsburgh real estate broker. The same site had been offered to H.J. Heinz Co. when officials at the Pittsburgh food giant were considering expanding outside of the city because of a fight over a former Pittsburgh Wool Co. site they preferred.

In May, Platt said, the Jefferson County site north of U.S. Route 22 was identified as Wal-Mart's preferred location. He expects workers there to average between $10 and $14 an hour.

Ohio officials put together an incentive package that includes $1.4 million in public infrastructure improvements, such as highway and sewer work; $2.1 million in Ohio job creation tax credits; $650,000 in Ohio sales tax exemptions for equipment; and various training grants.

In addition, the package turns over to Wal-Mart an option to buy 100 acres at $3,000 per acre. Platt estimated that will save $1.1 million.

The distribution center will have state-of-the-art equipment to closely track sales at both Wal-Mart and Sam's Club stores, its members-only warehouse store unit, said company spokesman B. John Bisio. Both Bisio and Platt said the new facility could attract additional development to the area.

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