Walmart store opens on Whitestone Blvd.

After about a year of construction, a new Walmart debuted May 21 at 2801 E. Whitestone Blvd., Cedar Park, with a grand opening ceremony and a welcome from community leaders.

Store manager Keith Mitchell said the new store offers 185,000 square feet of groceries and general merchandise as well as a pharmacy, Subway restaurant and SmartStyle Hair Salon. The grocery section includes a product Mitchell said may be popular with Austin-area residents.

"We're going to be the first [Walmart] store in [Texas] to have fresh-made sushi every day," Mitchell said.

Mitchell said the store may draw customers from Parmer Lane and north of Cedar Park, including the cities of Leander and Liberty Hill.

Big-box growth

The new store brings Cedar Park's number of big-box retailers to six. The city already has one Walmart, a Target, one Costco and two H-E-B stores. Leander also has one H-E-B store. A third Cedar Park H-E-B is planned for the corner of Lakeline and Whitestone boulevards and will open before 2020, according to an incentive agreement with the city of Cedar Park.

Big-box retailers rank among Cedar Park's top five sales tax producers, said Phil Brewer, Cedar Park economic development director. The city retailer rankings do not reflect sales taxes from businesses that operate within the larger retailers, such as Costco Texas Beverages inside Costco, he said.

Economic impact

Costco's 153,700-square-foot store in Cedar Park employs 200–250 people, Brewer said. The new Walmart employs 350 people, including 10 salaried managers. About 30–40 percent of staff are part-time employees, Mitchell said. The three H-E-B stores in Cedar Park and Leander combined employ about 900 people, company spokeswoman Leslie Sweet said.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau's most recent projections from 2012, 42.9 percent of Cedar Park residents held a bachelor's degree or higher degree. As of April 2014, 32,057 Cedar Park residents were considered part of the city's workforce, and 30,871 people had jobs, resulting in an unemployment rate of about 3.7 percent, according to the Texas Workforce Commission.

Recent census projections show that 29.9 percent of residents in Leander held a bachelor's degree or higher degree. TWC figures indicate that Leander's workforce population is 15,387. About 14,900 Leander residents held jobs in April 2014, resulting in an unemployment rate of about 3.2 percent.

Living wages

Despite their employment, many local working families cannot fulfill basic life needs such as food, utility bills and rent payments, said Brian Kelsey, principal at the Austin-based Civic Analytics research firm.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Living Wage Calculator shows that a single adult's hourly living wage—the minimum earning to fulfill basic needs—is $9.43 in Williamson County. Kelsey said an average Williamson County family of one adult and one child requires an hourly wage of $17–$18 to meet basic needs.

According to the TWC, a retail salesperson's average entry-level hourly wage for Texas in 2013 was $8.14, 89 cents above the federal minimum wage of $7.25.

Retailers such as Wal-Mart and H-E-B offer starting hourly wages of $7.25. Costco pays entry-level employees wages of $11.50 hourly.

Brewer said the city seeks employers that offer a mix of jobs that range from entry-level to executive positions.

"You can be going after all these high-paying jobs, but there's always that segment of your community that doesn't have the skill sets to be competitive in applying for those types of jobs," he said. "We look at every [incentive] project on a case-by-case basis, and kind of look at the upside and the downside and try and figure out what is a good fit for our community. You need those types of jobs for the kids who are still in high school who want a part-time job."

Residents can expect more business announcements near the growing Ronald Reagan Boulevard area, Brewer said.

"We've seen some projects that had some predevelopment meetings with developers," he said. "Hopefully some of those will get in the pipeline, and we'll start to see some projects coming [before City Council for approval] here in the next few months that area."
By Stephen Burnett
Stephen Burnett has been a community journalist since 2005. He joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in November 2013. For the cities of Cedar Park, Leander and northwest Austin, he covers city and county government, business, development, events, transportation, utilities and more.


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