Denver event aims to close gap in Walmart's 'Made in USA' push

Thu Aug 14, 2014 8:04am EDT
 
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By James B. Kelleher

(Reuters) - Wal-Mart Stores Inc, which has pledged to buy an additional $250 billion in U.S.-made goods over the next decade, is hitting a snag as it tries to meet that promise: Some vendors keen to participate in the initiative complain that after decades of offshoring it has become impossible to domestically source even commonplace components for their products.

So America's largest retailer has invited dozens of small- and midsize manufacturers that aren't necessarily interested in having a direct relationship with Walmart to come to Denver this week for a two-day matchmaking event.

The goal? To connect Walmart vendors hungry for key parts with manufacturers that have idle plants - and to put those plants back to work cranking out components, like small electric motors or polyester yarn, that have become hard to find.

“We're going to try to match up (vendors) who are looking for component parts with factories that have capacity in the hopes that we can rebuild that supply chain that doesn’t exist anymore," said Michelle Gloeckler, the Walmart senior vice president in charge of the initiative.

Critics of the retailing giant are quick to claim that Walmart, which built its empire on low prices, is partially to blame for the sorry state of U.S. manufacturing.

Mary Bottari, a former trade analyst for Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, says Walmart’s push for cheap goods "has fueled a global race to the bottom in wages and working conditions." And the Economic Policy Institute, a union-friendly think tank, estimates Walmart's trade with China alone has cost the United States 200,000 jobs.

Walmart disputes those claims, and spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan says Boston Consulting Group has estimated that the domestic-sourcing initiative will create 1 million jobs in manufacturing and related service jobs.

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The Wal-Mart company logo is seen outside a Wal-Mart Stores Inc company distribution center in Bentonville, Arkansas June 6, 2013.  REUTERS/Rick Wilking