Walmart Talks Domestic

The retailer hosts a summit intended to fuel made-in-America products
By David Gill

Bill Simon, Walmart

Bill Simon, Walmart: “Together, we can help spark a revitalization of U.S.-based manufacturing.”

By convening its manufacturing summit in Orlando, Fla., last month, Walmart put its mouth where its money is.

The retailer called together government officials—including Penny Pritzker, U.S. secretary of commerce, eight state governors and representatives from 32 state governments—and executives with supplier companies to a grand meeting of the minds on Aug. 22, to underscore its commitment—announced in January—to purchase an additional $50 billion in U.S.-made products over the next 10 years.

Keynoting the event, Bill Simon, president and CEO of Walmart U.S., said, “Jump-starting the manufacturing industry and rebuilding the middle class requires a national effort by companies, industry leaders, lawmakers and others. Together, we can help spark a revitalization of U.S.-based manufacturing, using new technology and new innovations to make production in the United States affordable and feasible.”

One of the key themes at the summit was the need for cooperation between government and business in fueling U.S. manufacturing. In her remarks, Pritzker reinforced the Obama administration’s commitment to support both U.S. manufacturing and exports. “Right now, companies in America are making and selling products around the world at an all-time record pace, and the incentives to make things here and hire American workers is only getting stronger,” she said. She praised Walmart for convening the summit, saying that the bringing together of the public and private sectors “is exactly the type of cooperation that’s needed to grow businesses, create jobs and keep America competitive.”

As part of the summit, several manufacturers announced new investments in their domestic production. General Electric said it plans to invest $30 million and add more than 150 jobs in expanding the capacity of its U.S. lighting operation, part of a new agreement with Walmart to put American-made GE Energy-Efficient Soft White light bulbs on the shelves of 3,400 stores by the summer of next year.

Jeff Immelt, GE’s chairman and CEO, said at the summit that this collaboration “reinforces our belief that manufacturing is a competitive advantage, allowing U.S. companies to compete and win in every corner of the world.”

Walmart said it is partnering with other companies in similar efforts to move U.S. manufacturing forward. On the home front, the retailer allied with textiles vendor 1888 Mills to increase this company’s domestic production of towels.

In other categories, Walmart has formed partnerships with Kayser-Roth, producer of the No nonsense legwear brand; Element Electronics, a manufacturer of flat-screen televisions; Renfro, also a legwear vendor; Chobani, the maker of Greek yogurt; and Hampton Products International, which produces and markets the Wright Products brand of screen- and storm-door hardware.

The summit included opportunities for government officials to interact directly with executives representing manufacturers looking to create jobs in their local communities. Suppliers also presented potential projects while learning about the resources available from state governments designed to encourage manufacturing growth.

In his speech, Simon made it clear that the growth of U.S. manufacturing isn’t at the expense of production abroad. “This is not about our country versus other countries,” he said. “We have a global economy, and the factories abroad will keep humming along, driven in part by a rising middle class around the world.

“But … the next generation of production will need to be built closer to its consumption. And that creates an opportunity for all of us.”