story by Kim Souza
Walmart U.S. CEO Bill Simon pledges to buy $50 billion of U.S. made product in the next decade and give suppliers longer term commitments to invest in U.S. manufacturing jobs like those recently created at 1888 Mills – a textile company that is spinning out towels in Griffin, Ga.
Simon said the retailer worked with this supplier to make it happen and towels will be sold in 600 Wal-Mart Stores this spring, bearing a “Made in the U.S.” tag. This initiative is part of the retailer’s three-part strategy to help energize economic growth in the U.S.
Simon says he’s tired of waiting for Washington to move, when the retail industry could and should write the story.
He spoke Tuesday (Jan. 15) at the Retail Federation’s Annual Conference in New York about the company’s plan to “move some rocks” and offer economic solutions through job creation.
Simon challenged his industry colleagues to get on board.
“America needs economic renewal. We wait with baited breath to see how many jobs have been created at the end of each month, But it’s the private sector that creates jobs and it’s time we get to it,” Simon said.
“We don’t have to win an election and don’t have to have Congress to pass a bill for us to do what is right. Jobs are at the heart of the issue in this nation and the time for waiting is over,” he added.
He pegged three big rocks that Wal-Mart hopes to move out of the way in order to spur economic growth forward in 2013.
“We won’t need to wait for a jobs report, because we, in retail, will have written the story.” he said.
The Retail Federation reports one in four jobs today is supported by the retail industry and Simon says it's time for the industry to stand proud of the jobs it creates.
“Through our buying power we can give manufacturers the confidence they need to invest here and together we can help put some Americans back to work. These U.S. manufacturers will help up build up local tax bases as well,” he said.
He admitted there are some crazy dynamics at play.
“Did you know 70% of cotton grown here is spun elsewhere and then returned to the U.S. in sheets and other textile products. That’s two unnecessary trips across the ocean,” he said.
Simon pledged to work with suppliers in the textile, pet food and other product categories who want to source and manufacture products in the U.S.
“We don’t need anyone’s permission, we can just do it,” he said.
About two years ago he said the company began looking at opportunities to source textile product in the U.S. and found one towel supplier who wanted to give it a try in a under utilized plant in Griffin, Ga.
He said 1888 Mills didn’t really know how to make it happen, but the two worked together with Wal-Mart’s order commitment which gave 1888 Mills the confidence to invest the needed capital.
“We made a long term commitment and that factory is hiring again. These towels will be in our stores this spring,” Simon said. “Nothing about this was inevitable, people decided to move forward, move a big rock.”
He encouraged other retailers to look for opportunities to source products made in the U.S. and pledged to continue that effort at Wal-Mart.
Secondly, Simon stood up for retail jobs saying at any given time there are between 15,000 and 50,000 job postings at Wal-Mart. Simon spoke passionately about the 175,000 employment promotions the company makes each year and said 75% of store management started as hourly workers.
He promises Wal-Mart employees working part-time they will have the first opportunity to move to full-time as positions are available.
Lastly, Wal-Mart said it will hire 100,000 veterans over the next five years.
“After a decade of war, today’s returning veterans will have more opportunities at Wal-Mart. We will offer every veteran a job within 12 months of honorable discharge,” Simon told the group, who applauded the effort.
“We need the discipline and leadership that veterans can offer,” Simon added.
He said transition from active duty is an important time in a veteran’s life.
“I tended bar in South Carolina for 6 months following my release from the Navy. I am thankful for that opportunity before I went to grad school,” Simon said.
Wal-Mart recently spoke to the White House about its veterans initiative and First Lady Michelle Obama will be working with the retailer over the next several months to iron out the details.
Retail Federal CEO Matthew Shay applauded Wal-Mart's hiring initiative of veterans.
“We have a lot of announcements made at the National Retail Federation’s Big Show, but today’s announcement by Wal-Mart's Bill Simon tops them all. It is nothing less than visionary for a great American company to make such a bold pledge to help our American heroes.”
“Walmart is challenging the industry to follow their lead, and I have every reason to believe that retailers – the industry responsible for one out of every four jobs – will respond accordingly,” Shay said.