U.S. Manufacturing

A Conversation with SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet

As the 24th Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, Maria Contreras-Sweet leads the agency’s efforts to aid, counsel and protect the interests of small businesses. Recently, she spoke at Walmart’s second U.S. Manufacturing Summit, and afterward, she talked with us about Walmart’s commitment as well as her own work to help business owners thrive and strengthen the national economy.

WMT: Before the SBA, you had several roles focused on helping people gain access to opportunity, such as serving on the Federal Glass Ceiling Commission. It seems that you have a passion for this type of work - why?

C-S: As a young person watching television, what I saw shaped my views about many things, including what I wanted to do in the future. At the time I didn’t see a young Hispanic woman on television, so I didn’t know what I could truly be. We have people from all over the world who’ve come to America, so we need to embrace that diversity. [At the SBA] I want to make sure that I’m helping to build an America that’s strong and not leaving anyone behind. That’s how to create social mobility: expanding the middle class.

WMT: Tell us about your role at Walmart’s summit. Why was it important for you to attend and speak?

C-S: I wanted to be here for three reasons. One is getting the word out about our programs that I think are so rich and changing people’s lives across the country. The second is that Walmart is such an incredible player in the small business community. It was a great opportunity to be able to talk to folks here, one to thank them for the support that they’ve provided us in our V-WISE program for veteran women business owners, and also to explore ways we can work more closely together in the future. The third reason is that I wanted to hear firsthand from small businesses about what they think their challenges are, so I can ensure that the SBA continues to evolve and respond through smart, bold and accessible initiatives.

WMT: On that note, you’re leading a focus group today with a few businesses attending the summit. What’s your goal for that conversation?

C-S: I’ll give you a story. During the Los Angeles riots in 1992, many corporate and political leaders came together with the goal of building grocery stores and other businesses to help get the economy going again. I thought that made a lot of sense. But because I also think it’s important to call on the customer to see what they need, I went out into the community to ask them. They said, all of those things are fine, but what we need before any of that is a laundromat. We need to be able to wash our clothes so we can feel good about ourselves, go in and interview for jobs, and just exist every day. It’s very important to stay closely connected to our customers to gain these sincere insights and experiences. That way we can be a more responsive and effective SBA.

WMT: That makes a lot of sense. A lot of the work behind Walmart’s U.S. manufacturing initiative is about connecting with suppliers and manufacturers – coming together one-on-one to explore areas of cooperation.  As our company continues along this path, we’re interested in your perspective on Walmart’s commitment and its potential impact on the American economy.

C-S: Clearly, as the largest corporation in the world, this commitment plays a critical role in spurring economic activity. Manufacturing jobs are quality jobs. They have a great multiplier effect, and the fact that you’re having this conference here to spur more growth and connection with that sector – I think will take us a long way.

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A Passion for Taking Grocery Shopping Off Your Plate

When you’re in the business of packing and carrying groceries, those bags tend to get heavier during the holidays.

As e-commerce market coach for Walmart’s online grocery pickup service in Northwest Arkansas, I’m here to tell you that your muscles know it when they’ve been carrying around 14-pound turkeys all day.

But it's not all about weight. With everything from elaborate Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts to New Year’s Eve spreads ramping up, customers rely on my team to come through. It’s about picking produce that’s ripened to perfection. Selecting the right pecans for mom’s very own homemade pie.

As joyous as the holidays can be, they tend to cause some people a bit of stress – and Walmart’s grocery pickup service is one way we’re working to make things a little easier. For many, being able to place their order online and have us bring it out to their car is a blessing. It's one less thing they have to worry about.

I’m so thankful I had the opportunity to help Walmart pilot our online grocery pickup service. It really was a new concept for Walmart in the U.S. And what I’ve enjoyed most has been the conversation with customers while we're loading groceries into their vehicles.

One customer – a mother of four – comes to mind immediately. That family has gotten to know one of our delivery associates so well that, as the mother pulls in, the kids pop their heads out the sunroof and call for him by name. They look forward to seeing him and talk up a storm every time. In the process, we’re able to save that mother a few valuable hours each week in grocery shopping.

For one gentleman, this service has helped him achieve a sense of independence. He rides in his wheelchair to the pickup location down the street from his home a few times a week for his orders. It’s the highlight of his day because it’s something he can do on his own, without assistance from others. And his smile tells the story.

So I was thrilled when, earlier this year, the program was expanded to include select Walmart stores in Charlotte and Fayetteville, N.C.; Salt Lake City and Ogden, Utah; Nashville; Tucson, Ariz.; Colorado Springs, Colo.; and Atlanta. (It’s also available in several other markets – you can find out if your area is included by visiting walmart.com/grocery.) It's a fast, easy service with pickup that’s always free, and with no markups or subscriptions. But for me, it's so much more.

Helping bring this next phase of Walmart to life has been the best one and a half years of my life. It really has. Years ago, as an assistant manager with Sam’s Club, I helped develop a similar program, but for members who were small business owners. So the job I have now is right up my alley. I love the collaboration, the testing, the innovation that goes into creating a new facet of the business – especially when it’s all about making people’s lives easier.

I’m a country girl who grew up in southeast Missouri. I had no idea I’d be part of something like this, but Walmart continues to trust and open new doors for me. So I continue to do everything I can to make it the best possible experience for our customers. And, right now, that means taking a little weight off their shoulders during the holidays.

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U.S. Manufacturing

A Simple Sponge, and My Second Chance

I’ll never forget the day in 2003 when everything went red. I was in my 30s, watching television with a friend in my living room when it happened. Three surgeries and several weeks later, I was declared legally blind.

While it happened quickly, it wasn’t completely unexpected. I had been diagnosed with diabetes back in Jamaica and couldn't afford the proper medication, which led to my vision loss. So I found myself trying to navigate life without the benefit of eyesight and, soon, without my husband, who left me. It was just my daughter and me. Years later, I moved to New York City in search of opportunity, but questioned whether I'd made the right decision after going unemployed for more than three years. That changed when I found National Industries for the Blind.

Statistics show more than 70% of the more than 4 million legally blind adults in the U.S. are not employed. As the nation’s largest employment resource for people who are blind, NIB is working to change those statistics, and my story is one example. Eight years ago, I discovered New York City Industries for the Blind, which later became Alphapointe, one of NIB’s associated nonprofit agencies. I began manufacturing SKILCRAFT® Speedy Scrubber sponges at Alphapointe’s facility in Brooklyn. And I’ve been counting my blessings ever since.

All of a sudden, I had a steady income. I wasn’t wondering how I was going to pay my bills and support my daughter. I take great pride in operating my sewing machine on the manufacturing line because I know the military and government customers who use our product depend on us for quality. In May, we were excited when our sponges began hitting the shelves of select Walmart stores throughout the Northeast as part of the retailer’s commitment to U.S. manufacturing. I’m part of a team with more than 100 employees, each one legally blind, just like me.

NIB and Alphapointe believed in me, and that’s the second chance I was looking for. I’m confident again and I have a support system around me. I’ve made friends for a lifetime – friends I go out to dinner with and hang out with on the weekends. I even met the love of my life, Ronnie McNeil, here. We were married earlier this month, which kind of completes my dream come true.

For more than 76 years, NIB has created jobs for people who are blind through the sale of thousands of SKILCRAFT products. The Speedy Scrubber sponges are manufactured by people who are blind working at Alphapointe – one of 95 nonprofit agencies associated with NIB – in its Brooklyn facility. 



2 Dreams, 2 Degrees, and 1 Unconventional Path

Like most moms, Lisa Moore has always bent over backward to put her son Joseph “Joey” Moore in a position to make his dreams come true. But there was one such dream that weighed especially heavy on her.

“I’ll never forget the day Joey came to me and said, ‘Mom, I’m going to go to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,’” Lisa said. “He was only 11 years old when he told me, but his mind was made up. I wanted to help make it happen but, as a single mother, I honestly didn't know where the money was going to come from.”

When Joey neared the end of high school, Lisa’s manager at the Walmart store in Mooresville, N.C. where she worked turned her onto the Associate and Dependent Scholarship Programs offered by the Walmart Foundation. Not only could associates like Lisa apply for scholarship assistance, but so could their high school senior dependents.

That was 2007.  Joey applied for and received a scholarship, and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  And he’s used his chemistry degree to springboard into a successful career with Henkel Corporation.

But that isn't where the story ends with the Moore family.

“It wasn’t long before Joey started telling me I could do the same thing – that it's never too late to go to college,” said Lisa, 52. “A light came on inside me.”

Already a pastor at Scott’s Chapel United Methodist Church in Statesville, N.C., Lisa recently decided to apply to the Associate Scholarship Program to help finance her enrollment at Hood Theological Seminary School. She, like her son, was awarded a scholarship and is on track to graduate in 2018 with her Masters of Divinity degree. At that point, she plans to focus her efforts full time on the church, pursuing her dream of becoming an elder and possibly even a chaplain.

And she has quite the cheering section behind her.

“There are so many people lifting me up and cheering me on,” Lisa said. That’s why I’ve been with Walmart for 16 years. My job at Walmart has helped put a roof over my head and raise my son, and now it has [helped to support] both of our college educations.

“When I enrolled in seminary, Walmart allowed me to cut back some of my hours to concentrate on school,” she said. “Walmart has always been flexible with my schedule, no matter what was happening in my life and I’m so thankful for that. I’m the biggest cheerleader for this company, not just because of the scholarship program, but because of how it has looked out for me and my family.”

For more than three decades, the Walmart Foundation has made resources available to help U.S. associates and their high school senior dependents fulfill their educational goals through scholarships. More information is available here. 



Writing a Wish List, and Stumbling Upon a Career

Eleven years ago, Jean Mullins didn’t have just one job, or two jobs – she worked as many as four at a time. From babysitting to mowing yards, cleaning houses and painting, she did anything she could to support her children. For fun, she’d take them to Walmart, where they’d make wish lists of the things they wanted, and after spending so much time there, she decided to apply for a job.

She got that job, and today, it’s her only one. A career may not have been on Jean’s wish list, but it’s what she quickly built. Watch how she says filling out that application changed her life for the better.

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