Arkansas Economic Developers Focus On Wal-Mart Manufacturing Summit

by Michael Tilley (mtilley@talkbusiness.net) 25 views 

More economic development officials from around Arkansas are expected to attend the third year of the high-profile Walmart “Manufacturing Summit” now that it is being held in Bentonville, said Joey Dean, vice president for economic development at the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Dean, who also worked more than 10 years with the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, said the event provides unique access to companies with an incentive to relocate or build new operations in the U.S.

“There are a good number of folks from Arkansas who are going to be there. Wal-Mart has always been generous to give us a good amount of booth space,” Dean said.

Dean said Shawnie Carrier, president of the Arkansas Economic Developers and chief of staff at Arkansas State University, will be part of the Arkansas contingent expected to attend the summit.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. announced in 2013 a pledge to buy $250 billion in U.S. made products in 10 years. The Boston Consulting Group predicted that the $250 billion investment would create one million jobs, including jobs in manufacturing and related services.

The 2015 Walmart U.S. Manufacturing Summit is themed “Investing in American Jobs,” and is set for July 7-8. The event will be held in the Arend Arts Center at the Bentonville High School. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Walmart U.S. CEO Greg Foran are scheduled to speak. Also expected to attend is Harry Moser, founder of the Reshoring Initiative, a group founded in 2010 to help manufacturers and others in the supply chain find cost-effective ways to return production to the U.S.

Orlando, Fla., hosted the first summit, with the 2014 summit held in Denver.

Michelle Gloeckler, executive vice president, consumables and health and wellness and U.S. manufacturing lead, said the summit will be different this year in that Walmart will also hold an “open call” with companies who want to put their products on the shelves of the world’s largest retailer. Gloeckler also said the open call will be different in that Walmart will meet only with companies who have products “that are ready to go.” In previous years the open call meetings between Walmart buyers and potential vendors included meetings to pitch product ideas.

Dean doesn’t see the open call change – it essentially attracts vendors with established operations – as an obstacle. He said new vendors may need larger operations as they grow sales with Walmart.

“Those new sales could necessitate additional locations … so I think we are going to benefit more from leads that are not currently manufacturing in the U.S. but are interested in reshoring their manufacturing efforts,” Dean said, adding that Arkansas can “can compete with any other state” on industrial park availability, wages and workforce.

And they will compete. The summit also attracts hundreds of economic development officials from many states who are all pitching their industrial parks and labor demographics.

Arkansas has not scored well with respect to landing new operations from Walmart’s reshoring drive. The first big Arkansas news was a deal between Walmart and Rogers-based Redman & Associates to produce toy components. Then Walmart U.S. CEO Bill Simon and Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe attended the Oct. 7, 2013, event announcement. However, that deal, which was expected to create 74 new jobs, has fallen through.

Fayetteville-based Hanna’s Candles has seen a big bump in sales from the effort. PolyTech Plastic Moldings in Prairie Grove and Jarratt Industries in Fayetteville have also benefited with their plastic taco plate product that Walmart now pushes to stores through 49 distribution centers.

But many of the reshoring-related deals have landed in North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, and Wisconsin.

That reality doesn’t bother Dean. He said state and community economic developments know the process of working the “automatic leads” gathered at the summit from Walmart vendors requires patience.

“This doesn’t happen overnight. Companies don’t reshore overnight. So patience is the key in any economic development program, and it is certainly needed here,” Dean said.

He also said part of his job is to encourage companies in Arkansas to take advantage of the reshoring effort.

“Those of us who do this (economic development) around the state have to make sure there is an awareness, that there is an opportunity to participate in this and to participate in the open call.”

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