In comes IKEA, out goes our money

How fitting that the new Portland IKEA store is located near our airport because starting next week hundreds of thousands of dollars from area shoppers will be flying out of here to Europe and elsewhere. IKEA has cultivated a reputation around value for money and business practices that are touted as sustainable and employee-friendly. But when the dust settles on their grand opening, what will remain is nothing more than another big-box chain retailer taking locals’ hard-earned cash for the benefit of absentee management and shareholders totally disconnected from our community.

Undeterred, some 150,000 people from this region are expected to fall all over themselves getting to and through the 280,000 square foot store during its first five days of opening. According to IKEA, also on hand to mark the grand opening will be the Portland mayor and former mayor, a governor’s representative, and the heads of the Port of Portland and Portland Development Commission. The store will employ 400 “coworkers” (IKEA’s term) and is expected to be the magnet that draws many more (out of state) retailers to the long-planned and mostly vacant Cascade Station district. For those and other dubious reasons, you can expect city and state officials will join with IKEA dignitaries in boasting of yet another economic development victory for our region.

Of course, nary a word will be spoken about the effects IKEA will have on the area’s locally owned independent retailers who must now compete with IKEA. How many jobs will be lost among these businesses as a result of IKEA’s arrival? What economic and civic impacts will be felt when IKEA’s profits leave the area (which they will) instead of staying and multiplying across the local community? And what’s sustainable about having another big-box retailer encouraging thousands of us to get into our cars and drive miles to shop? (I know there is a light-rail connection nearby, but let’s be realistic about how many IKEA shoppers will actually use the train.)

For those of you still saying, “But it’s IKEA!”, consider what The Economist magazine found after it investigated IKEA’s absurdly complex financial structure orchestrated by founder Ingvar Kamprad and his family. “Clearly, the Kamprad family pays the same meticulous attention to tax avoidance as IKEA does to low prices in its stores,” the authors concluded.

So before you join the throngs at IKEA next week, imagine a plane with your money headed to Sweden.

July 19th, 2007

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