U.S. Manufacturing

Empowering Manufacturing’s Revolutionary Thinkers

Creating big change doesn’t just happen in one big step. It does, however, require many big thinkers – the bright minds who can develop new processes and ideas to tackle every detail and slowly bring a massive transformation to life.

Expanding U.S. manufacturing is a big change we at Walmart have been focused on for nearly two years now, and since then, we’ve taken many smaller steps to make it a reality. Today is one of those. At our second U.S. Manufacturing Summit, we not only brought together government leaders, suppliers and our own leadership – we joined the Walmart Foundation and U.S. Conference of Mayors in announcing the first grant recipients of the Walmart U.S. Manufacturing Innovation Fund, an investment in the intelligence we need to shape a better future.

One example of a process that could use a forward-thinking re-examination is the manufacturing of blue jeans. This relaxed wardrobe staple may seem pretty simple, but making a pair is actually quite complicated – and not that efficient. The current method typically involves chemical washes and several dips into a vat of dye. It also consumes a good deal of water. Researchers at Texas Tech University, one of today’s fund recipients, have proposed an alternative wherein foam is used to apply the indigo dye, allowing jean manufacturers to finish three times as many pairs during the dyeing stage and reduce water usage by 50% to 70%.

Three other institutions received grants toward textile processes today – Georgia Tech Research Corporation and North Carolina State University at Raleigh have both created concepts for new sewing technology, and the University of Georgia Research Foundation developed an additional approach to more sustainable dyeing. Other recipients included Indiana University and Oregon State University for injection molding innovations and the University of Texas at Arlington for new systems in small motor assembly.

Innovation has long been part of the culture at Walmart, and I was proud to be a part of this announcement. Thinking creatively paid off today for these institutions, but the bigger payoff will be in changing the landscape of U.S. manufacturing and thus our collective future.

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Innovation

In the Baby Department, a Mom’s Work is Never Done

Have you ever heard of tooth wipes? If you’ve never brought home a baby, then probably not – unless you’ve shopped for a gift for a first-time mom and noticed such a lesser-known item on her gift registry.

New parents tend to over-prepare because they’re nervous to get everything right. I know this firsthand because two years ago, I had my first son. And I thought I needed every possible item to take care of him – including tooth wipes.

So many of us are familiar with this feeling, and for me, it’s a life experience that translates well to my day job overseeing baby merchandise at Walmart. My team takes care of people in the happiest, but also the most stressful time of their lives. We’re constantly asking ourselves, how can we make that easier? One key – but coincidental – way is that many of the associates on the baby team have intuition from parenting babies and young children themselves.

Diana Marshall with Son

These perspectives have helped us make simple, but important changes to our assortment – like ensuring our customers can find popular brands like Britax and Plum Organics, and launching Urbini exclusively at Walmart. (It also applies to items like tooth wipes. When I needed them two years ago, Walmart didn’t carry them. Now we do, and they are even assembled in the U.S.!) Our parenting experience has also given us ideas to take to our suppliers that address important concerns, like a car seat with technology that alerts you when your child is still in the back seat if the ignition is switched off.

Talking to our customers, we see our personal insights proven right in many different scenarios. First-time moms like me want everything perfect and brand-name, while second-time moms tend to focus on just getting through the day. Second-time moms also concentrate more on functionality, which applies to their shopping experience, too. They’ve reduced the places they shop from a handful to only a couple, meaning convenience is important. That’s one reason we’ve expanded our assortment not just in-store but also online, and we’ve recently updated our baby registry to be easily accessible with the Walmart mobile app. I love now being able to shop for friends using my phone whether I’m in the store or in transit somewhere.

Smart Phone showing Gift and Baby Registry App

Research has shown my team that the needs of moms globally are really the same: They all want the very best for their children. I love that we’re able to provide that not just from business experience, but from personal experience, too. We’re able to learn about products and what works well, and then influence that for other parents. Just a few months ago, I took home all the diapers Walmart carries to try on my son and then gave feedback to our suppliers on quality. It helps to be so close to the category to be able to improve our assortment and customer experience.

It’s an intriguing circle, how many of my team members’ jobs influence our parenting and how being parents influences our jobs. Whether it’s updating our mobile registry, adding distinct items like tooth wipes, or ensuring we carry great private-label options like the Parent’s Choice training pants we just launched in partnership with Dreamworks, we’re working hard to make the hardest job in the world – parenting – a little easier.

You can read more about Walmart’s expanded assortment of baby products and services here.    

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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.

Pauline Doling at Sewing Machine

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.

Man at Sewing Machine

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. 

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Community

Once Hungry, Lisa’s Family is Now Hungry to Help

I first met Lisa as she walked into the YMCA of Greater Rochester with her youngest child still in a stroller, and her preschooler toddling along. For Lisa, planning three meals for her family every day was something that she could not afford as a single mother of three.

Fresh fruits and vegetables – a staple in a healthy diet for growing kids – were an expensive luxury. Toward the end of every month, she was left worried and afraid that she wouldn’t be able to put any food on the table. 

Unfortunately, Lisa’s story is not unique. In Monroe County, New York, there are over 100,000 people living with food insecurity. In addition, only one in six low-income children nationwide who relied on free and reduced school lunches participated in a summer nutrition program last year, according to the Food Research and Action Center.

Lisa and her girls started coming to the YMCA of Greater Rochester in 2013, where we were able to offer a solution to her family. We provide local children free access to nutritious meals during the day including breakfast, lunch and healthy snacks. For moms like Lisa, it’s a tremendous relief as they no longer have to worry about where their kids’ next meals are coming from.

Lisa with children at Rochester YMCA
Our facility is one of many YMCAs in 2,300 communities nationwide benefitting from a $5.3 million national grant from the Walmart Foundation that enabled the expansion of yearlong food programs. This grant is part of a group of grants made by the Walmart Foundation, totaling $15.5 million, to support free meal and nutrition programs. These grants mean so much to so many families this time of year, as children are out of school and without access to school meals and the daily routines they count on.

Today, things are improving for Lisa and her family. She graduated from college with honors this May and already has a job as a pharmacy tech at a local hospital. She credits our YMCA program with giving her the support and peace of mind that she needed while finishing her degree. Lisa now is also able to give back. Many times, I’ve seen Lisa and her daughters bring clothing to our facility in the hopes that other families will benefit.

Lisa and her girls still come to the YMCA each morning, and I talk to her about her plans for her daughters, who she says will grow up to change the world. I bet that dream will come true.    

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U.S. Manufacturing

U.S. Secretary of Commerce: Let’s Keep America Open for Businesses

Last week, we at Walmart were honored to welcome U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker to speak at our third U.S. Manufacturing Summit. Afterward, we caught up with her for a brief conversation.

WMT: Why is U.S. manufacturing important, and why do you think it makes a difference for communities across America?

Pritzker: I have a history of manufacturing in my family’s background of business, so I have seen up close and personally the implications of manufacturing on families and communities. Manufacturing is a critical sector of our economy. It employs about 12 million people directly and 16.7 million people at large, and what we know is that we have a resurgence in both employment and output in American manufacturing. We have had about 900,000 new jobs since 2010.

What I am struck by is if you look at Walmart’s policies to increase the purchasing of American-made goods and their commitment to lower their carbon footprint, they are actually related to one another.  With these two policies, I think Walmart is being both closer to its customer and closer to its supply chain, and I think that means that the products and goods and services that get created by Walmart are more in touch with what the customer wants.

American manufacturing is an important source of jobs, and it is also an important source of exports. We had about $2.34 trillion worth of exports last year which is a record. $1.4 trillion of that was American-manufactured goods. And so while it is a significant part of the economy that we export, it is also an important part of our GDP, and it is also an important part of our innovation. So whether it is the innovation that goes on between the Walmart buyer and the supplier or it is the innovation that goes on in the factory floor of either improving how the product is made or creating new products … that is very good for our economy.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker with 2015 U.S. Manufacturing Summit Attendees

WMT: This wasn’t your first time at Walmart’s U.S. Manufacturing Summit. What have you noticed now versus the first time you were here – what’s different?

Pritzker: Anecdotally, it seems that … there is a greater breadth of what is being brought to market. I think the aspiration to do more textiles here in the U.S. seems to be coming to fruition, and no one really knew if that was possible. It seems to me that [Walmart is] seeing more products and that is encouraging. I was talking with Michelle [Gloeckler] that the [Walmart] buyers are more often on the factory floor, so they are understanding the implications of the changes they are asking for as a buyer to a supplier. As a result, they better understand the implications on the line or the costs of something that seems easy to ask for when you are sitting in your office and the factory is half the world away. The flipside is, being on the factory floor allows for more collective innovation. They are saying, ‘Hey, if you want this, what if we did X’. That’s something that could be good for the manufacturing sector. And also good for Walmart. I think it is very exciting what is happening.

WMT: What are some specific ways that your office is working to help boost manufacturing in the U.S.?

Pritzker: We are working every day to connect manufacturers with the resources they need to succeed and thrive. One specific initiative is the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, a national network with hundreds of specialists who understand the needs of America's small manufacturers. Our experts connect businesses with the resources and services they may need to become more competitive, meet a new market challenge, improve production processes, adopt a new technology, or take a new good to market. For every dollar of federal investment, MEP clients generate nearly $19 in new sales. This is an exciting example of smart and effective government working specifically on behalf of America’s businesses.

Another program created by the Department of Commerce and our current presidential Administration is Manufacturing Day – a series of events across the country that is designed to excite young people about the potential of a career in manufacturing. Too many people view manufacturers as outdated factories filled with line jobs – not as innovative, inventive businesses, where workers develop and use the latest technology and build lasting, middle class careers. We are changing this perception by inviting students, career guidance counselors, parents, and workers to open houses, public tours, and career workshops at plants and factories across the country. Last year’s Manufacturing Day brought 400,000 Americans to over 1,600 events. 

The Department of Commerce is committed to being partners with America’s manufacturers as this vital sector of economy continues its remarkable resurgence. Working together, we can ensure America’s manufacturers remain at the center of our nation’s prosperity and keep America open for businesses. 

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