Nearly 1,500 government officials, suppliers and retailers convened last week at Walmart's first two-day U.S. Manufacturing Summit in Orlando to support a revival in U.S. manufacturing. In a column penned for The Huffington Post, Bill Simon, president and CEO of Walmart U.S., stated that the resurgence is critical to rebuilding the U.S's middle class.
"While we have entry-level and high-end jobs, we have lost the jobs in the middle that helped each generation of Americans do better than the one before it," wrote Mr. Simon. "Some call this an 'hourglass economy'; I tend to think of it as a canyon being hollowed out between the two ends of the job market."
He said while some are calling for higher minimum wages, that approach "doesn't address the real issue — the lack of good jobs in the middle. And it fails to understand the role of entry-level jobs, including those in restaurants, hospitality and retail, as a starting point — a chance to build skills and begin taking on bigger jobs."
Rather, the solution, according to Mr. Simon, is "to fill the middle with more good jobs." And that's why Walmart in January pledged to buy an additional $50 billion in U.S.-made products over the next 10 years and held the summit, co-hosted by the National Retail Federation, to rally support from industry leaders and lawmakers.
Pledges to infuse more than $70 million into factory growth and create more than 1,000 domestic jobs last week came from General Electric, Element Electronics, Renfro, Chobani and others.
Not surprisingly, critics saw the push as a PR move to counter the perception of Walmart as the company that led the migration of manufacturing jobs overseas in search of cheap labor. They also expect a minimal impact at best from the new efforts.
The Associated Press further noted that a Walmart made-in-America campaign in the mid nineties was short-lived because not enough low priced products could be found to suit shoppers.
But Walmart officials vowed this time to go well beyond a marketing campaign to explore adding U.S production across each of its 1,300 product categories, according to the AP report. With rising costs for Asian labor and overseas transportation, Walmart also said vendors had privately defined "tipping points" at which making goods overseas would no longer make sense.
"We can disagree on many things, but we all agree that Americans need good middle-class jobs and that we have a golden opportunity right now to revitalize our manufacturing industry," said Mr. Simon.
What's the likelihood that U.S. manufacturing will make measurable progress toward a revival over the next decade?