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GE joins Wal-Mart USA-made effort


More than 100 new jobs in Ohio are planned in connection with the Wal-Mart Stores Inc. “Made-in-America” initiative that debuted this week.

The world’s largest retailer’s first summit was aimed at bringing together retailers, suppliers and government officials to build on its recent commitment to drive more manufacturing in the United States.

The event, which drew more than 1,500 people, is occurring 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 Wal-Mart will sell at retail this year.

In connection to the summit, GE announced plans to invest $30 million and add more than 150 jobs, expanding capacity of GE Lighting’s domestic manufacturing operations for GE energy-efficient soft white light bulbs. GE said an agreement will put the bulbs on the shelves of 3,400 Walmart Stores by summer 2014.

Recruitment and hiring for the new manufacturing positions will occur over the coming months at GE plants in Bucyrus and Circleville, Ohio. Bucyrus will land 70 jobs and Circleville 50. A Mattoon, Ill., plant will add 30. The new positions add to the more than 700 employees currently at work across the three plants, GE said.

“Today’s great news at Bucyrus Lamp Plant builds on a GE Lighting legacy in the region that spans generations and traces its roots to the 1940s,” Matt Novak, plant manager at the Bucyrus plant, said. “We’ve already started to prepare the factory floor for the new GE energy-efficient soft white production lines and recruitment efforts are getting underway.”

Wal-Mart said that if other merchants pick up on its effort, that would mean an additional $500 billion in American-made goods over the next decade.

The campaign could serve to boost Wal-Mart’s image, constantly under attack by labor-backed groups who have criticized the retail behemoth as a destroyer of U.S. jobs, not a creator.

Wal-Mart’s CEO Mike Duke, Bill Simon, the company’s U.S. division CEO and other executives joined other business leaders including Jeff Immelt, chairman and CEO of General Electric Corp., and Kevin Toomey, president and CEO of the Kayser-Roth Corp. Governors of eight states also were on the program.

“I do believe that Wal-Mart can make a difference, and I believe we already are,” said Wal-Mart’s Michelle Gloeckler in a recent interview with The Associated Press. “But this is bigger than Wal-Mart. We want the support of other retailers.” Gloeckler, senior vice president of the home area, is leading the domestic sourcing initiative.

Demand is strong for Arcanum-based All American Clothing Co.’s denim wear, said spokesman Logan Beam Thursday. The company, which is also adding jobs and production, sells its goods online and in boutique retail outlets, not big box stores like Wal-Mart, he added.

Beam said the Darke County company uses “Made in USA Certified,” a verification service also used by Wal-Mart, to assure consumers its products are entirely made domestically. Beam said All American remains the only clothing manufacturer in the U.S. that has that certification.

“Manufacturing and supporting USA made items ultimately creates American jobs and a standard of living for America`s citizens,” Beam said.

Some experts are skeptical about Wal-Mart, noting that the company 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.

“It’s a very positive PR move for the company,” said Burt Flickinger III, president of retail consultancy Strategic Resource Group. “But it took two decades to unwind the American manufacturing base and it will take two decades to bring it back.” He says what will be brought back will only be a fraction of business sent overseas.

This is not the first time that Wal-Mart has pledged a made-in America campaign.

It pushed a similar program in the mid-1990s that fizzled because it couldn’t get enough low-priced goods to sell to its low-income shoppers. But executives vow its efforts this time around go well beyond a marketing campaign and involve dissecting each of its 1,300 product categories, from bath towels to gadgets, to determine which can be made here.

It’s also reaching out to state and local officials to work with suppliers to explore rebates, training and other programs to attract U.S. makers state by state. The discounter also says it’s changing the way it does business with suppliers, giving multi-year commitments for basic goods where it makes sense, instead of season-by-season ordering.

Rebuilding U.S. manufacturing jobs here is resonating even more these days. The nation’s unemployment rate of 7.4 percent, while now at a 4 1/2-year low, is still well above the 5 percent to 6 percent typical of a healthy economy.

Meanwhile, Wal-Mart and other major retailers have been under fire for not doing a better job in monitoring worker safety in factories overseas. That pressure increased after a factory building collapse this past spring in Bangladesh, killing 1,129 people. That was the deadliest incident in the history of the garment industry.

But what could really propel the movement this time around is purely economics: Labor costs are rising in Asia, while oil and transportation costs are high and increasingly uncertain.

In fact, Wal-Mart said that several manufacturers had told executives privately they had defined “tipping points” at which making goods overseas will no longer make sense. Wal-Mart says it doesn’t believe that its customers should pay any more for made-in-America goods and is focusing on working with suppliers to make sure the prices are in line with what shoppers want to pay.

Wal-Mart, with more than 4,000 stores in the U.S. and about $460 billion in total sales, has proven that it has the clout to get other suppliers and merchants on board. For example, in 2009, Wal-Mart created a coalition among stores, suppliers, government, nonprofit organizations and academic experts for a sustainability index that measure whether goods were made in a responsible way and whether the materials are safe.



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