While most of us have noticed – an used – self-checkout lines at big box stores such as Walmart and Home Depot, few of us might realize another change in the back of Walmart stores.

Bruce Wallace

In a back office where associates previously counted the days cash and balance the books from the store’s registers, there is now a robot counting eight bills per second and 3,000 coins per minute. The robot digitally deposits the money in the bank, accumulating interest more quickly than armored car delivery. The machine also predicts how much cash is needed on a given day (for making change) in order to reduce excess and it never, ever steals from the company.

It may not seem like a major change, but it is one more way that automation has crept into the retail trade area.

As Amazon, Walmart and Target duke it out online, retailers are looking for every way possible to jettison jobs. Other retailers – Sears and JC Penney foremost – are simply closing their stores, and job losses mount.

It is a major reason why I think the Ashland Board of Aldermen did the right thing on Monday and voted to send a Use Tax to the November ballot. It doesn’t seem to make sense to tell readers to vote themselves an Internet sales tax, but that is what this publisher will do. While the Southern Boone area is getting plenty of residential homes, they are not keeping up in the commercial growth, and commercial growth – and its sales tax – is what pays for city services.

Quick reminder: Your property taxes that you pay each December are utilized, for the most part, to pay for your school district. Your state taxes go to pay for state services, including those special legislative sessions this past summer. Federal taxes paid each spring go to pay for….well, the list is too long. But you get the idea. City sales tax – each time you pay for something in Ashland – pays for city employees, someone to mow the grass at city park, streets, equipment for your police department, such as police cruisers, etc.

As the City of Ashland pushes towards 5,000 and, in the future, 7,000 residents, it is questionable as to whether or not the retail that normally goes with residential growth will ever get here.

The retail industry, according to numbers provided by Citi Research in the July 20 edition of the Wall Street Journal, employs 16 million people. Now, as stores close, retail jobs are disappearing. Since January, the U.S. economy has lost about 71,000 retail jobs, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics – a number of those jobs were lost at JC Penney and Sears. A primary factor in the closing of those stores is the growth of online sales.

The Citi Research report looked at industries with the highest risk of job losses due to automation by the year 2030 and the shrinking retail trade was tied for third most “endangered” with real estate, at 67%.

The most job losses due to automation 13 years in the future will be in the accommodation and food services with 86% of the industry at risk of being automated and transportation and warehousing, 75% of the industry becoming automated.

Remember then-candidate Donald Trump promising coal miners jobs this time last year? I have no doubt that the winning candidate in the 2024 and 2028 presidential elections will be promising displaced retail workers new jobs.

I have no doubt that there will be additional sales tax from new commercial ventures as Ashland continues to grow. But I have doubts that it will be the kind of commercial boom seen in the 1980s and 1990s around Springfield in the fledgling towns such as Nixa, Republic, etc.

Ultimately, the residents of Ashland will vote for what kind of town they wish to have. But I also think, at some point, a local sales tax will be charged at the Internet checkout line anyway.

The vote of the aldermen on Monday, hoping for an Internet sales tax to be approved by voters, is a vote for a city budget that allows for street repair and police protection.