Many manufacturers stood to gain when Walmart opened its procurement process to a new wave of suppliers during its two-day “2015 Manufacturing Summit” held last week at its Bentonville, Ark., headquarters. But some manufacturers already are benefiting from the giant retailer’s 2013 pledge to spend an additional $250 billion on products supporting domestic manufacturing and American jobs over a 10-year period.
Its plan was to increase what Walmart already buys of U.S.-manufactured goods, source “new to Walmart” U.S.-made products, and support the reshoring of manufacturing of the goods that it currently buys.
One of the companies already benefiting is Ranir LLC, a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based maker of dental supplies, including toothbrushes, power-toothbrush handles, dental accessories and dental-floss tools. It is investing $3 million for automated equipment, and adding 19 employees to bring production of its electric-toothbrush heads back from China under Walmart’s patriotic initiative. In fact, Ranir CEO Christine Henisee even spoke at the summit.
At the second annual event, manufacturers were to get the chance to present their U.S.-made products to buyers from Walmart, Walmart.com and Sam’s Club and to attend “supplier academy” sessions on topics such as “how [Walmart] customers perceive products made in the U.S.,” how to benefit from trends in American manufacturing, a discourse on dispelling “myths” about doing business with Walmart, and a sharing of success stories from last year’s first open call—from companies including Ranir.
Last year, Walmart had about 500 companies attend its open call for suppliers and hosted roughly 800 meetings with 175 of the company’s buyers. This year, the company combined the open call with a summit that included top Walmart executives, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and economic-development officials from states around the country.
Critics have complained that Walmart’s commitment to buy extra supplies from U.S.-based manufacturers amounts to a pittance of its total domestic procurement. “When you start to dig just a little bit, you find that Walmart’s commitment is pretty misleading,” alleged the Alliance for American Manufacturing, a non-profit, non-partisan partnership formed in 2007 by some of America’s leading manufacturers and the United Steelworkers. Among other things, the Alliance alleged that Walmart actually has “increased imports to 775,400 shipping containers, a jump of 40,000 containers in the last year,” and “boasts of relationships with nearly 20,000 Chinese suppliers.”
But in addition to the actual dollars and contracts involved, for Walmart, the “Made in the USA” initiative is about the important symbolism of encouraging American manufacturing in all its forms.
“When we buy new products, suppliers hire people to make those products,” Bill Simon, president and CEO of Walmart U.S., said at last year’s open call. “These American jobs build families and communities, and they help our country thrive. That’s really what our domestic manufacturing commitment is all about.”