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Who Is Behind New Pro-Walmart Group?

February 17, 2014, 5:23 PM by Brady Mallory
Updated: February 17, 2014, 8:04 PM

Who Is Behind New Pro-Walmart Group?

With a little more than a month before the city vote, a group has come forward in support of a south Sioux Falls Walmart store.  But the group, which initially appears to be a grassroots-type, citizen-led local organization, actually started in Arkansas.  According to a finance report, Walmart contributed $250,000 to it.

On April 8, voters will decide whether to support a rezoning plan.  A Yes vote will allow Walmart to begin construction on a new supercenter at the corner 85th Street and Minnesota Avenue.

A pro-Walmart group called Building a Better Sioux Falls has sent letters to people who live in the city, encouraging them to support a south side Walmart store in April.  They are signed by five Sioux Falls residents.  Some of the names are familiar, including Representative Hal Wick and former lawmaker Gene Abdallah.  Darryl Nordquist and Diane Derry also signed their names.

"This city is growing tremendously and retailers are going to take advantage of that growth, not take advantage of it, but provide services where needed as the city grows," Nordquist said.

"If one on the south side does go up, it'll be more convenient for the people living there.  Tax revenue, I think all around, will be good for the city," Derry said.

Derry works at Henry Carlson Company, the contractor for the Walmart going up in the city's northwest corner.  She said Building a Better Sioux Falls approached her employer and asked if any employees would sign the letter.  She and a coworker both signed on.  Nordquist said he was also approached to lend his support.

Brady Mallory: Who's, uh, who's heading this group?  Is there one person in charge?
Nordquist: I don't; I don't know the answer.

Building a Better Sioux Falls' finance report lists an Arkansas man named Ryan Irsik as the group's chair.  Irsik is also Walmart's Senior Manager of Public Affairs and Governmental Relations.  The report shows the campaign is paid for by a quarter million dollar contribution from Walmart Stores Inc.  KELOLAND News contacted Irsik, but did not get a call back.

The letter you received shows a logo of what is supposed to be Falls Park.  In the logo, there are mountains behind Sioux Falls' namesake.  There are no mountains near Falls Park, nor in Sioux Falls, for that matter.

The letter lists reasons why a new Walmart would better Sioux Falls.  The letter claims the store would create 250 new "quality" jobs, and provide $1.5 million in annual tax revenue going to schools, libraries and other services.

Mallory: $1.5 million in annual tax revenue.  Where did we get that number?
Nordquist: It was one that was provided.  I wasn't a part of providing that number.

Craig Dewey, a public relations consultant and spokesperson for Building a Better Sioux Falls, contacted KELOLAND News.  Dewey said Walmart is a charter member for this group, noting its large financial contribution, but said it also has a lot of support from Sioux Falls residents and business leaders.  Dewey said he approached the five people who signed the letter.  He said he has seen a need for "more shopping options" in south Sioux Falls. 

Both Derry and Nordquist say they personally did not receive any money from the group and merely wanted to lend their support.  That's why they say they signed their names.  Nordquist, who is the CEO of Special Olympics South Dakota, said he appreciates Walmart's support of Special Olympics.

"A very big advocate for those with disabilities, providing jobs.  So, I think it's a very good thing that Walmarts are in Sioux Falls," Nordquist said.

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