ORLANDO, Fla. – Wal-mart Stores Inc. spearheaded an effort Thursday to bring together retailers, suppliers and government officials so they can figure out how to bring more manufacturing jobs to the United States.
The world’s largest retailer hosted its first two-day U.S. Manufacturing Summit in Orlando, hoping to capitalize on the company’s recent commitment to drive more manufacturing in the U.S.
The “made in the USA” campaign could boost Wal-mart’s image, which is constantly under attack by labor-backed groups that have criticized the retail behemoth as a destroyer of U.S. jobs rather than a creator.
The goal of the summit was to start “connecting the dots” with a dialogue among the 500 manufacturers, officials from three dozen states, eight governors and U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker at the conference, said Bill Simon, president and CEO of the company’s U.S. division.
“It could be difficult for one at a time, all of us on our own,” Simon said. “The best way to overcome the challenges is to talk to one another.”
The summit comes seven months after the Bentonville, Ark.-based discounter pledged that it planned to buy $50 billion more U.S.-made goods over the next decade.
That’s the equivalent of just more than 10 percent of what Walmart will sell at retail this year.
Walmart said that if other merchants do the same, it would mean an additional $500 billion in American-made goods over the next decade.
To be sure, even if Wal-mart is successful in getting key retailers and suppliers on board, experts say it won’t rejuvenate the U.S. manufacturing industry.
But the movement could help stem the tide of jobs flowing to China and elsewhere that has been occurring in the last two decades.
Some experts are skeptical, pointing out that Walmart led the migration of manufacturing jobs overseas in search of the cheapest labor, veering away from the principles of its late founder, Sam Walton, who espoused buying American-made goods.
In fact, Burt Flickinger III, president of retail consultancy Strategic Resource Group, says what will be brought back will only be a fraction of business sent overseas.
“It’s a very positive PR move for the company,” Flickinger said. “But it took two decades to unwind the American manufacturing base, and it will take two decades to bring it back.”