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Bass Pro can bite it, says Gander Mountain

The Heartland Institute has an interview with Gander Mountain CEO Mark Baker, and his take on how super-sized chains like Bass Pro and Cabela’s are easily manipulating governments into giving them gobs of money to open up shop in their towns.

Ewald: Gander Mountain has launched a national campaign in opposition to government subsidies in the outdoors retail industry. What is wrong with subsidies?

Baker: Competitors of Gander Mountain have successfully convinced state and local governments in several states to provide large tax incentives in order to build stores in their communities. They portray their stores as “destination retail” in order to secure the incentives, claiming that by having their store in a community it will draw millions of tourists, and their wallets, to the area. However, these retailers are in the marketplace to sell product and turn profit, and like all retailers they analyze the markets to determine where their customers live and shop.

Playing one community off another, these retailers push for tens of millions of dollars from taxpayers to help finance their stores. Even more troubling, in some cases they are persuading states to give them favorable “nexus rulings” that are costing taxpayers even more in lost sales tax collections.

Cabela’s estimates that tax increment financing and other forms of government assistance [cover] about one-third of the cost of building new stores–or an average of $10 million to $20 million per location. However, the public financing packages can be larger. For instance, Cabela’s received a tax increment financing package totaling $40 million to build a mammoth 180,000-square-foot store in Kansas City, Kansas.

Neither Cabela’s nor Bass Pro would disclose the total amount of public money they have received over the years, but our estimates put the combined total at well over $400 million. When you add the value of the nexus rulings, the total goes even higher.

Pff. They’re just being sore losers, right?

Baker: We believe in the American system of free enterprise and consider these demands to be anti-competitive and fundamentally inappropriate. We cannot in good conscience go down that road and maintain our integrity as a good corporate citizen. We think it’s wrong. So we are unwilling to accept the “everyone is doing it” argument and become part of the problem.

Surely the amount of money given to these companies is rewarded with tax revenue and much needed jobs, right?

Baker: Resources that could be used for education or true economic development are being wasted on private retail developments. Communities have been paying big money to bring in low-paying retail jobs. Buda, Texas, for instance, gave Cabela’s subsidies worth $61 million, or about $271,000 for every full-time job, according to our estimates. Reno, Nevada spent $54 million, or $208,000 for every job.

That’s all? Come on! This is New York! We don’t stop until we hit $1 million per employee!

Read the full interview here.

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