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Alliance rejects Walmart bias claim
Officials of the Stanislaus Economic Development & Workforce Alliance defended their agency from a caller to the Courier's "Sound Off!" line they say was misguided when he suggested that they're supportive of the Walmart Supercenter application.

The caller suggested that the Alliance was "drinking Walmart's Kool-Aid," noting "Do they believe in Walmart's business model and now condone exploitation?"

CEO Bill Bassitt addressed the comment at his appearance in Ceres last week, saying "I'm having a little of trouble understanding."

He said the Alliance recruited Ceres businesses to attend a focus group to speak about how to compete against big-box retailers. The group met at the Community Center and a result is a workshop planned to take place at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, April 19.

Bassitt explained that the effort was not intended as a way to dismiss concerns about the proposed Walmart Supercenter in an attempt to win support for the project.

"We have nothing against big box retailers - and every community has them - but oftentimes when a new retailer of a big-box magnitude comes into a community, the smaller businesses suffer," said Bassitt. "...they go out because they don't know how to compete with a big-box retailer."

Bassitt said the Alliance is interested in coaching small businesses to compete, should the Ceres city government approve the Walmart application.

The Alliance has hired nationally known consultant, Dr. Bruce Sanders, to speak on April 19.

Bassitt answered the Sound Off! caller's charge saying, "We're not drinking anybody's Kool-Aid. And I don't care if Walmart comes in here or not; it's no skin off my teeth. That's a city of Ceres decision. But if they do come in (with a Supercenter) I will guarantee you that they will impact locally owned businesses.

"All we're trying to do is put together a seminar that the businesses of Ceres can attend and learn maybe how they can tweak their businesses to protect themselves."

He said businesses can become competitive against large retailers by being sensitive about pricing and customer service.

"Customer services is something that will win every time as long as you know how to go about it," said Bassitt.