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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Among the Essentials, a Delivery of Hope

When Hurricane Katrina made landfall in August 2005, David Simmons’ first thought wasn’t the minor damage to his home in Mississippi. It was calling the Walmart dispatch station to see how he could help through his job as a truck driver.

He was sure there was plenty of emergency freight that had to be delivered, but that wasn’t a request he was met with on the other end of the line. The operator instead asked how his family fared in the storm, and told him to stay home and take care of his property as there were drivers coming from all over to assist with the recovery.

Later, he did get a chance to help – hauling donated merchandise for the Salvation Army – and says that it remains to this day one of the most fulfilling moments of his driving career.

“From food, clothing and water to even roofing materials, it was all needed and appreciated by the residents of the Gulf Coast,” David said.

Rickey Oliver, too, remembers Katrina as a moment he was proud to work for Walmart. One of the drivers who participated in a convoy of trucks that waited to enter one of the most heavily damaged areas of New Orleans, Rickey thought for a moment that the abandoned-looking area around him was actually empty. 

A man proudly holds a 2005 image of Walmart trucks waiting to enter affected areas of the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina

“To my amazement, like in the movie Field of Dreams they came, walking in from every street, every corner, out of buildings I thought for sure no one would be in. All hungry and thirsty and desperate for help, and we … were the help,” Rickey said. “I don’t think a person can truly express the feeling or the honor one receives in doing this kind of thing.”

Gary Mars, another Walmart driver who was part of that same convoy, feels the same way. Carrying water, generators, and food – plus ice, important during hot August weather in Louisiana – was a critical role to fill.

“I remember the sense of pride I felt as we convoyed into New Orleans and surrounding cities, as nearly every vehicle we met was waving at us as we passed, and several had makeshift signs saying, ‘Thank you, Walmart,’” Gary said. “I was relatively new to Walmart, but I knew at that point that this was a place to permanently call home. It’s amazing to me just how quick lives can change, just in a moment. It’s very humbling.” 

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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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One Nurse, 16 Infants, and a Storm’s Ultimate Test

Medea Gabriel is not a hero, she insists.

During Hurricane Katrina, there were many others she believes are equally deserving of that title. Her fellow medical staff at New Orleans Memorial Medical Center who worked while separated from their families. Her best friend, Monique, who took Medea’s ailing mother to evacuate on her own. Also, the strangers she remembers driving their personal boats to pick up patients and staff from the hospital and navigate them to dry land.

But as a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit, Medea helped wrap up 16 babies and move them to shelter through a hole in the wall that led to a truck bed. The truck bed was to take them to a helicopter and then, safety, but once Medea passed each infant through the wall, she had no idea if outside realities would let that happen.

Today, she knows that nearly all of those babies somehow survived on the way to their destination, Baton Rouge Women’s Hospital. While one of them did pass away, she doesn’t know how or when, because that hospital has since closed. She recently got a Facebook message from one of the mothers who wanted to thank her for what she did that day.

“It was surreal to know how much I impacted her life and that she remembered me,” Medea said. “Just knowing that these kids are now 10 years old lets me go on.”

Photo shows the inside of a neonatal intensive care unit

When Medea transported those infants that day, she says she was simply doing her job. Once the job was complete, she turned her full attention toward her mother, whom she sent with her best friend to get on a boat to safety. She had to pack up her mother’s medicine, waterproof her medical records and dosage instructions and staple them to the inside of her mother’s clothes so they didn’t get lost. She then sent her two loved ones off to stay with a college roommate whom she believed in her heart would take them in, but she didn’t know for sure. It was the second big moment that day where she had to simply act.

Thankfully, two days later – after Medea herself had to leave the hospital not knowing her next resting place – she found out that her mother was, in fact, alive.

While many things have changed for Medea since then, like a new job and also a new husband, she has returned home to New Orleans and works with pediatric patients once again, this time doing HIV research.

“I’m in a totally different place than I was before Katrina,” she said. “I’ve found peace and joy in this recovery.”

Editor’s Note: You can hear more of Medea’s story in a four-part podcast created by Good360, a disaster relief organization that works to improve the way communities can connect with much-needed supplies.    

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With Grit and Heart, Two Mississippi Stores Return

Pass Christian, Mississippi, is a small town of only a few thousand people, but it has always been a huge part of Kim Claycomb’s life. It’s where she grew up and went to high school, and later built a career at the local Walmart.

In the last few days of August 2005, Kim’s community was forever changed as Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. Kim’s home was damaged, not destroyed, but her workplace – the supercenter she and her colleagues affectionately named “The Store by the Shore,” was ruined beyond repair.

After the storm hit, many Walmart associates went to work at other stores. Several in the Pass Christian area headed to another nearby small community, Waveland, to serve local residents in a makeshift store they created inside a tent in the parking lot.

Today, Kim works at a Neighborhood Market in Gulfport, but as her store in Pass Christian was being reconstructed, she drove by every day and took photos of its progress. When the building was complete, she recalled the mayor talking excitedly about the grand opening on the local news.

“I never thought a Walmart would have that big of an impact, but it did,” Kim said. “Seeing customers who remembered us from before … those people are like family to me. Coming back was a big deal.”

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