When Wal-Mart Stores Inc. hired Margaret Garner in 2005 as the first black woman contractor to build one of its stores, she was hailed as a symbol of the benefits local businesses and minority communities would reap from the retail giant’s push into Chicago.
Six years later, her company is bankrupt, crushed by cost overruns on Wal-Mart’s first Chicago store, located at 4650 W. North Ave. A Crain’s investigation published April 11 shows the benefits to minority contractors were less than suggested by the hype surrounding Garner’s hiring.
Much of the large-scale work on the Austin store went to non-minority firms. Garner herself engaged two such firms during much of the project to fulfill her role as general contractor, Crain’s reports.
“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 Association. “And she wound up going down.”
Crain’s writes the Austin project casts doubt on the predicted boom 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.
“It’s not at all what was promised to residents of that ward and the city of Chicago,” says Virginia Parks, a professor at the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration, who is co-writing a book on Wal-Mart’s push into urban neighborhoods.