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Study Reveals How Right-to-Work Laws Impact Store Openings

Walmart More Likely to Open Stores in Pro-Business States Near Borders of Less Friendly States

WASHINGTON, DC, June 8, 2011 — A new study in the June issue of the American Sociological Review found evidence of how businesses engage in regulatory arbitrage and make decisions about where to open stores based on states’ regulatory policies. The study explored various states’ right-to-work (RTW) laws and Walmart store openings from 1998 through 2005. It discovered that Walmart was more likely to propose new stores in RTW states near the borders of non-RTW states, and to open those stores even in the face of protests, than the company was to do so on the borders in neighboring non-RTW states.

RTW laws prohibit unions and employers from entering agreements that make union membership a condition of employment. Twenty-two of 50 US states have variations of right-to-work laws. Under regulatory arbitrage, if regulatory polices do not suit business firms’ interests, they will locate their operations in pro-business states, creating an incentive for other states to become pro-business.

In their study, Paul Ingram, Kravis Professor of Business, Management and senior scholar at the Jerome A. Chazen Institute for International Business at Columbia Business School; Hayagreeva Rao, Atholl McBean Professor of Organizational Behavior and Human Resources, Stanford Graduate School of Business; and Qingyuan (Lori) Yue, Assistant Professor of Management and Organization, USC Marshall School of Business, aimed to explore whether RTW policies can signal a pro-business environment for certain kinds of businesses, such as labor-intensive ones. In this case, from 1998 through 2005, Walmart proposed 102 store openings within 25 miles of borders between RTW and non-RTW states. The researchers followed each proposal to gauge which stores eventually opened. The company’s store proposals are protested often. Interestingly, the researchers found that Walmart was even if they were protested, compared to the borders in neighboring non-RTW states.

“This is interesting because Walmart is not unionized,” noted Professor Paul Ingram of Columbia Business School. “We take this as an indication that RTW states are perceived to have more business-friendly policies, and Walmart prefers to do business in these states.”

The results provide evidence of how firms engage in regulatory arbitrage. Walmart often opens stores in states friendlier to business because its stores can draw customers from about 50 miles away. The study has important implications for policymakers, as states and countries have to consider competition from nearby territories when drafting laws. “Neither employees nor companies are hostage to a location—or its regulations—anymore,” Ingram said.


About the American Sociological Association and the American Sociological Review
The American Sociological Association (, founded in 1905, is a non-profit membership association dedicated to serving sociologists in their work, advancing sociology as a science and profession, and promoting the contributions to and use of sociology by society. The American Sociological Review is the ASA’s flagship journal.

About Columbia Business School
Led by Dean Glenn Hubbard, the Russell L. Carson Professor of Finance and Economics, Columbia Business School is at the forefront of management education for a rapidly changing world. The school’s cutting-edge curriculum bridges academic theory and practice, equipping students with an entrepreneurial mindset to recognize and capture opportunity in a competitive business environment. Beyond academic rigor and teaching excellence, the school offers programs that are designed to give students practical experience making decisions in real-world environments. The school offers MBA and Executive MBA (EMBA) degrees, as well as non-degree Executive Education programs. For more information, visit (

The research article described above is available by request for members of the media. For a copy of the full study, contact Daniel Fowler, ASA’s Media Relations and Public Affairs Officer, at (202) 527-7885 or

For more information about the study, members of the media can also contact Sona Rai, Senior Media Relations Officer, Columbia Business School, at (212) 854–5955 or