Today I got a press release from Walmart announcing a new program to fund innovations in U.S. manufacturing. The summary sent with the release reads, “Walmart, the Walmart Foundation, and the United States Conference of Mayors (USCM) launched the Walmart U.S. Manufacturing Innovation Fund, focused on the development and growth of U.S. manufacturing, with a specific goal to make it both easier and more competitive to make household goods right here in the U.S. This initiative is part of Walmart and the Walmart Foundation’s broader commitment to investing in American jobs.”
Pardon me for being cynical and for slamming an easy punching bag — after all, Walmart has been easy to criticize at least since I wrote this article about the company in 2004 ...
But I'm just not buying the idea that the world's largest retailer and importer of goods from China is dedicated to investing in American jobs. After all, this is the company that held food drives last year ... for its employees.
Clearly, Walmart is banking on short memories and a wash of PR to improve its image among the doubters and shrugging shoppers alike. I hate to say it, but that's probably a good bet. And maybe the fund can do good: Non-profit organizations can apply for the grants — $100,000 or more — to "help create solutions to some of the biggest challenges with on-shoring and growing U.S. manufacturing." That's no small change. Even so, Walmart's success as a low-cost import house still defines its primary identity. Here's a 2005 Machine Design editorial from Ron Kohl in which Kohl laments the impoverished existence we face if our future is driven by the lowest price of everything.
"Walmart is committed to American renewal and recently announced it will buy an additional $250 billion in U.S. products over the next 10 years in an effort to grow and expand U.S. manufacturing and encourage the creation of much needed U.S. jobs," continues the release summary. In fact, despite improving working conditions thanks in part to companies like Walmart, substandard work conditions remain in many industries.
So that I don't seem completely hostile to a company that is most certainly in my retirement accounts, I'm putting Walmart's full press release below. But before I do that, here's a list of money the richest members of the Walton family have. In 2010, six members of the Walton family had the same wealth as the bottom 42% of American families combined. Information courtesy Forbes 400 list and walmart1percent.org.
Compare and contrast these numbers to those in the Innovation Fund at your leisure.
Christy Walton — Net worth $36.7 billion
Jim Walton — Net worth $34.7 billion
Alice Walton — Net worth $34.3 billion
Rob Walton — Net worth $34.2 billion
Ann Walton Kroenke — Net worth $4.8 billion
Nancy Walton Laurie — Net worth $4.1 billion
Walmart, Walmart Foundation and the U.S. Conference of Mayors Launch $10 Million U.S. Manufacturing Innovation Fund
Grants to advance innovative solutions to increase U.S. manufacturing
EMBARGOED until 2 p.m. EST - Washington, D.C. – March 13, 2014 - Walmart, the Walmart Foundation and the United States Conference of Mayors (USCM) today launched the Walmart U.S. Manufacturing Innovation Fund. Eligible non-profit organizations can apply for grants of $100,000 or more, funded by the Walmart Foundation, to help create solutions to challenges many companies face with on-shoring and growing U.S. manufacturing.
The first year of the initiative will focus on innovation in textiles manufacturing and common manufacturing processes that apply to a broad range of consumer goods, including small motor manufacturing and tooling for injection molding. Anticipated participating organizations include research and academic institutions, think tanks and other non-profit entities focused on innovations in manufacturing.
“Through the Walmart U.S. Manufacturing Innovation Fund, we hope to help remove the barriers to revitalizing and growing U.S. manufacturing, creating jobs and building a stronger American economy,” said Cindi Marsiglio, vice president of U.S. sourcing and domestic manufacturing for Walmart. “This is part of Walmart and the Walmart Foundation’s broader commitment to foster new ideas and jobs to promote strong communities and grow America’s manufacturing footprint.”
Today’s announcement is part of Walmart's commitment to buy an additional $250 billion in products that support American manufacturing. It represents a significant investment to accelerate U.S. manufacturing and create American jobs. The Boston Consulting Group estimates the initiative will add 1 million jobs in the United States.
"The U.S. Conference of Mayors is committed to helping bring manufacturing jobs back to America's cities, and our partnership with Walmart and the Walmart Foundation will strengthen our metro economies that drive the national economy," said Tom Cochran, USCM CEO and executive director.
Applications are due April 22, 2014. Selected proposals will receive grants ranging from $100,000 and above for award periods of at least one year, with the option of reapplying for continued funding. Each applicant will need sponsorship from the mayor of a USCM member city.
For more information and to apply for a grant please visit usmanufacturingfund.com.
In conclusion (and this isn't part of the release) here's another Comedy Central Walmart commentary for the heck of it: