Alton Mayor Brant Walker penned the following letter to the editor, in the wake of major store closings announced this week in his community.
On Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017, the New York corporate offices of Macy’s and Kmart announced they had decided to close several of their respective locations, two of which are, unfortunately, located in Alton. These decisions were unexpected by the owners of the properties that house both retailers as well as the city. These corporate decisions were particularly surprising given Alton’s strong retail sales growth in recent years.
First and foremost, my concern lies with the employees of these businesses who are being displaced by unfortunate corporate decisions. As the former owner of an Alton employment agency who experienced the 2008 economic downturn, I understand the effects of these kinds of decisions on the employees of a company and the hardships that occur as a result.
The City of Alton will work with the Madison County Employment and Training Department as well as the Illinois Department of Employment Security to ensure that workers affected by these closures have the resources necessary to obtain new employment. I will do everything within the power of my office to assist the affected individuals as they navigate this difficult time in their lives.
Second, I, along with Alton’s Director of Development and Housing Greg Caffey, have been in contact with the owners of both Alton Square Mall and the building that houses Kmart in an effort to assist both in securing new tenants for their properties. The City of Alton has many successful programs and incentives in place to assist business and property owners, and we will utilize every tool available to ensure Alton’s continued growth. Based on Alton’s strong retail growth, we share the property owners’ optimism that new businesses will be secured for both affected locations.
While the decisions by the corporate offices of Macy’s and Kmart are extremely disappointing for our community, they are not representative of the state of our local economy or our business climate. Both remain strong and continue to show steady growth, particularly in the retail sector.
According to the Illinois Institute of Rural Affairs, Alton’s retail sales grew by 3.6 percent in 2014 and 3.1 percent in 2015, the last two years for which full data is available. In comparison, the average retail growth for Alton between 2004 and 2013 was negative 0.49 percent.
In addition, the Illinois Institute of Rural Affairs said, “Alton had per capita retail sales of $19,064 in 2015. Downstate’s per capita retail sales was $12,862 in 2015. This resulted in a positive pull factor of 1.37, indicating that Alton has exceeded what would be expected compared with other areas and could mean that customers are being attracted from surrounding areas.”
Other examples of the strength of our local economy and business climate include $56 million in capital investment and the issuance of more than 200 new business licenses, all since 2013. We also continue to see growth in our retail sector with the opening of new stores such as Kay Jewelers, Mattress Direct, Ross Dress For Less, and Hibbett Sports, among others.
By any reasonable measure, our local economy is stronger than it has been since the economic downturn that began in 2008. While many communities continue to struggle with the aftermath of that recession, Alton has shown steady growth as a result of the pro-active, pro-business policies implemented since my term began in 2013.
The decision to close the Alton Macy’s and Kmart by their parent corporations is both surprising and extremely unfortunate, but I remain extremely optimistic about Alton’s economic future. Unfortunately, the Office of Mayor does not have the power to tell corporate CEO’s and boards what to do, although at times like this, I wish it did.
Going forward, the City of Alton will work to limit the effects of these closures on our local economy by working directly with the property owners to secure new tenants to ensure Alton’s continued growth. We will also work with the State of Illinois and Madison County employment agencies to ensure that workers displaced by these closures have the resources available to navigate this difficult time.
From deep economic recessions to major floods, Alton has faced far more difficult challenges, and each time our city has risen to the occasion and emerged stronger than ever. Our citizens are our greatest asset, and we will utilize our collective will to weather this storm. It is during times like these that it is easy to criticize and lay blame for circumstances beyond anyone’s control, but it is harder to pick yourself up and get back to work. I, along with the members of my administration, have already rolled up our sleeves and gone to work to solve this challenge, and I remain confident that our city will overcome it, just as it has every challenge it has faced.
Mayor Brant Walker