By  on August 15, 2014

Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s second U.S. manufacturing summit in Denver on Thursday was filled with speeches from top company executives, feel-good videos of factory workers and testimonials from Wal-Mart suppliers, who spoke about their success with the retailer.

American government officials were also in attendance. Maria Contreras-Sweet, administrator of the Small Business Administration, said, “There’s a renaissance in small manufacturing [in the U.S.]. Last year, more than 1,300 manufacturing companies opened their doors in the U.S. Small businesses account for 45 percent of all manufacturing jobs, or five million jobs.”

“Ultimately, this business is about people,” said Doug McMillon, president and chief executive officer of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. “We’re both committed and excited about the U.S. manufacturing initiative.”

Wal-Mart provided a free educational series at the summit on topics such as contract manufacturing, economics on a broad scale, robotics and automation, and the energy advantage, with specific details around the fundamentals of energy costs.

“Over the last 18 months, suppliers have told Wal-Mart that their biggest obstacle is finding component parts” that are made in America, said Michelle Gloeckler, executive vice president of consumables and U.S. manufacturing. Factories with capacity and flexibility displayed their parts at 87 trade show-style booths.

“We believe suppliers will see how competitive the U.S. is on component parts,” Gloeckler said. “Some factories make us finished goods and can run component parts for other uses. The hope is that they can become contract manufacturers for Wal-Mart suppliers looking to produce in the U.S. We think it will rejuvenate the supply chain.”

“We’re finding new and innovative products we don’t sell today,” said Duncan MacNaughton, chief merchandising officer. “Some suppliers have re-shored and others are expanding their businesses here in America.” Wal-Mart is also looking at longer-term relationships that are more strategic “so we can make investments together,” he said.

“Things happen at Wal-Mart meetings,” said Gloeckler. “In March 2013, Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina attended the summit with the hope of convincing suppliers to come to her state.” Cut to a live feed of Haley at the new Element Electronics production plant, which brought 325 jobs to Winnsboro, S.C.

The winners of the Wal-Mart U.S. $10 million innovation fund, sponsored by the retailer, the Wal-Mart Foundation and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, were revealed at the summit. Seven leading research and development institutions were awarded a total of $4 million in grants. The work was concerned with textile manufacturing, cotton breeding, automated production of sewn goods, novel alternative mold fabricating and a system for small motor subsystems. “Wal-Mart made it possible for us to undertake a project that could transform the denim manufacturing sector in this country,” said one of the recipients.

Neil Ashe, president and ceo of global e-commerce, said Wal-Mart’s Made in USA microsite isolates domestic-made products and allows suppliers to bring items online as quickly as possible. “We streamlined the effort, so you can get your product up on the Web site in less than a week,” Ashe said. “We started with 500 items. Now we have over 15,000 items.”

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