At its two-day U.S. Manufacturing Summit that ended Wednesday in Bentonville, Ark., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said it is on track in its goal to buy an additional $250 billion in U.S.-made goods by 2023.
During the two-day event, Wal-Mart hosted and facilitated more than 1,000 meetings between suppliers and merchants and suppliers and states. The Open Call event yielded 550 supplier meetings with Wal-Mart buyers. And 30 states held nearly 400 supplier meetings during the summit.
There was much chest-thumping and many self-congratulatory speeches at the summit, as Cindi Marsiglio, vice president of manufacturing, said, “We’re on plan, we’re proud of our progress. We know there’s still more work to do. It was always an ambitious goal.”
Speaking via video link, Wal-Mart’s president and chief executive officer Doug McMillon said, “The movement of moving manufacturing to the U.S. is very strong. I’m proud of the role Wal-Mart is taking. We know it’s worth the effort. Manufacturing more products in the U.S. benefits many stakeholders. It enables more American products to be exported to our stores around the world.”
There have been hiccups, though. Truth in Advertising, an organization that monitors the veracity of ad claims, last week said it found more than 100 instances of false and deceptive Made in the USA representations on Wal-Mart’s Web site, with some products labeled “Made in the U.S.,” although packaging indicated they were made in China, the organization said.
Michael Bender, executive vice president of global e-commerce at Wal-Mart, appeared to give a mea culpa when he told summit attendees, “We’re working to improve the listing and information on our site. With seven million items, it’s a big challenge. So we’re rebooting the process and we want your help as we undertake a more extensive quality-assurance review. Our customers want transparency and authenticity. We’re replacing our previous Made in the USA badge with a new logo that will show up better in searches.”
Penny Pritzker, U.S. Secretary of Commerce, explained how manufacturers can get economic aid to grow or modernize their businesses. “The Department of Commerce is supporting the make it in America renaissance,” she said. “The Economic Development Administration encourages regional collaboration aimed at drawing inbound investments. Nonprofits work together to identify a local sector of manufacturing where they have an advantage. After selecting the best regional plans, the DOC supports the local implementation by securing financial aid. This is another example of how the government is working to improve the way you build your business by breaking down silos.”
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson made a sales pitch for his state to the manufacturers and suppliers in the audience. “I’m a conservative Republican,” he said. “For businesses to grow and prosper they need a tax climate that’s reasonable and fair and competitive with other states. They need a regulatory environment that’s not stifling. We’re lowering income tax and trying to be competitive with other states.”
Wal-Mart and the Wal-Mart Foundation last year created an Innovation Fund with $10 million in grants. Marsiglio revealed the a new round of grant recipients with a focus on textiles. “There’s cutting and sewing, weaving and robotics,” she said. “This is changing the face of how textiles are made in the U.S. again.” Last year, the Innovation Fund helped finance a research project at Texas Tech University called “Foam Indigo Dyeing of Cotton Yarns.”
“It’s going to transform the denim manufacturing sector,” Marsiglio said.
There was more news around apparel and textiles than at previous summits, with Wal-Mart highlighting Tibana Finishing, a factory in Brooklyn. Owner Tiberija Miksa once employed 200 people, but in recent years the factory was on the brink of collapse. Fashion Avenue partnering with Wal-Mart gave Tibana a proposal to knit sweaters for the label. “We manufacture garments from knitting to sewing,” Miksa said. “The work could not have come a day too soon for us.”
Wal-Mart worked to develop a 200-thread-count sheet for more than a year, but couldn’t make the numbers work. Both Wal-Mart and the supplier persevered, and sheet and textile production will return to the Carolinas. About 650 textile plants closed between 1997 and 2009, mostly in the South, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts.
Michelle Gloeckler, executive vice president of U.S. manufacturing, closed out the meeting by saying, “What we’ve gathered here to do is big. We’re here to bring jobs back to the community. It’s only fitting that we held the meeting at the Arend Arts Center at Bentonville High School. This was a small town before Sam Walton changed retail. He changed the way the customer shopped and he changed Bentonville.”
Walton, who spearheaded a Made in the USA effort in Wal-Mart’s early days, was seen in a video discussing the subject. “I have a feeling that we can make a reasonably large contribution,” he said. “We believe the merchandise can be made here in the U.S., manufactured here in this country and be as good or better than what others have been buying. We’re going to look at everything we do to see if it can be done in this country.”