Quick Hit Micah Maidenberg Monday April 11th, 2011, 10:29am

Investigation Questions Contractor Work At Chicago's First Walmart

Crain's Chicago has a must-read investigation out that finds minority contractors didn't get much work building the first Walmart store in the heavily black Austin community, on Chicago's West Side, a key talking point in the push to build more Walmart stores in Chicago. The news comes as the retailing behemoth prepares to build more stores in cities like Chicago and New York amid slumping sales (the retail giant has seen declines for seven straight quarters at stores that have been open for at least a year). It's likely the company will face hard questions about their contracting practices should it approach the City Council for zoning changes or other legislation needed to build out stores here.

In all, according to the Crain's investigation, just two of the 19 subcontractors hired to complete the work at the West Side store were minority- or women-owned enterprises; you can see a chart tracking where the money went here. There are questions about how many trades workers from the Austin neighborhood were actually hired for the project. And the general contractor hired to build the store -- headed by an African-American woman -- is now bankrupt, "crushed by cost overruns on Wal-Mart's first Chicago store," the paper writes.

Here's more from the Crain's piece (in the first sentence, Omar Shareef is referencing the store's minority, African-American general contractor):

"What happened at the end of the day is that (Wal-Mart) paraded her around the country as its African-American female (general contractor)," says Omar Shareef, founder of the Chicago-based African American Contractors Assn. "And she wound up going down."

The Austin project casts doubt on the predicted boon in jobs and contracting dollars for minorities from Wal-Mart's plan to build several dozen stores in Chicago over the next five years. Wal-Mart and supporters, including Mayor Richard M. Daley, used such promises as a rallying cry to beat back opposition to the Bentonville, Ark.-based chain's expansion in Chicago.

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