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 Day Worth Bookmarking for One Elementary Library

As an elementary school librarian, I have the unique opportunity to directly impact 300 students, every week.

So I’ve worked hard to turn my library into much more than a place to simply check out books. It’s a space for hands-on exploration, discovery and – more than anything – fun.

A few weeks ago, that meant getting out tubs of colored pencils, markers and stacks of paper to map the various Native American tribes one grade was learning about. There was even quite a bit of excitement around the thought of creating our own “maker space” – an endless collection of buttons, bags, cans, string, magnets, glue, cardboard and other materials students can build and tinker with. This hands-on space could serve as a vehicle for generating conversations around their ideas.

But, with paper, pencils, staples, books and other core supplies already accounting for so much of our library’s limited budget, money is a significant hurdle. And I’m not alone.

On average, teachers spend $490 of their own money to buy school supplies for their classrooms. So I was in absolute shock when someone from Walmart walked into my library. Walmart tallied votes from parents and students across the nation and – as part of its recent Commander in Teach(ers) program – surprised 20 teachers with gift cards for $490 to help with school supplies.

I felt like I was floating on air as I looked at all of the students. I knew what this gift was going to mean for them. I’ve already used the card to purchase some basic supplies and some new books I knew our students would be excited about. But it also gives me a little more freedom to think outside the box. That maker space idea is a whole lot closer to becoming reality.

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U.S. Manufacturing

Watch the American Dream at Work at this Utah Company

If you were watching TV over the weekend, you may have seen a new ad about Walmart’s commitment to U.S. manufacturing. While the music in the background is fairly recognizable, what may not be as well-known is the commercial’s cast: real employees of Lifetime Products, one supplier we’re working with to re-shore production of several items.

Based in Clearfield, Utah, Lifetime manufactures basketball hoops, folding chairs and tables, and picnic tables. They also produce other consumer products, from lawn and garden items to kayaks and paddleboards, for other companies.

The company was founded in 1986 and soon became a Walmart supplier of sports equipment. Fast-forward 30 years and they are providing approximately half of their 300 products to Walmart stores, Walmart.com and Sam’s Club locations across the U.S.

Lifetime began as an idea in a garage in Riverdale, Utah, when a husband and wife team wanted to build a better basketball hoop for their family. Their passion and innovation expanded the project into a business whose name reflects its mission: to build durable, lasting products for consumers and their families.

The company has grown from 15 employees in a partial warehouse to 2,000 employees, making it one of the largest employers in Clearfield, population 30,000, and one of the largest private employers in the state.

In late 2014, we at Walmart reached an agreement with Lifetime for the production of patio furniture and other products re-shored from China. Walmart’s commitment to Lifetime and American-made goods has allowed the manufacturer to establish new production facilities in Mascot, Tennessee, just north of Knoxville. Lifetime hopes to hire 500 employees over the next five years in this new location, which is situated in a town of just 2,500 people.

“Lifetime’s relationship with Walmart and Sam’s Club has been vital to our expansion,” their president and CEO, Richard Hendrickson, recently said. “As a company, we will continue to fight hard to keep jobs and manufacturing technologies and expertise right here in the United States of America.”

When we visited Lifetime to shoot the commercial, we also got the chance to meet several of their employees and chat about their work. In addition to Mike’s story here, you can watch others – and read more about our commitment to U.S. manufacturing – at walmart.com/americanjobs.

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#FiveThingsFriday: Cleaner Stores, Higher Sales and Purveyor of Fine Mangoes

ICYMI: Cleaner stores and higher sales … it’s definitely no Vudu. However, all of these are in the news this week, along with retail’s most marvelous mangoes, Chef Robert Irvine’s delicious new dishes and a new focus on food safety.

Cleaner. Faster. Friendlier.

I mentioned our training academies a couple of weeks ago, as well as how they were a part of a larger investment in our workforce. A $2.7 billion investment, to be exact. New York Times reporter Neil Irwin mentioned it as well this week in this article about how that investment is starting to show positive returns. The wage aspect of Walmart’s commitment to its associates has gotten a fair amount of conversation, but equally important are the training and education components. If our associates know how to do their jobs to the best of their abilities, they’ll be able to provide the best customer service possible. I hope you’re noticing these changes in your local stores, too!

A New Brand of Celebrity Sidekicks

What do celebrity chef Robert Irvine and your parents have in common? They both want you to eat your veggies, bub! Signature Sidekicks is Irvine’s line of four fresh-cut vegetable dishes that are available exclusively at Walmart. Pop into your store and pick up a bag of Garlic Balsamic Broccoli, Sesame Ginger Stir Fry, Braised Collard Greens, or Provencal Ratatouille. (Speaking of Sidekicks, do you remember the Sidekick, the precursor to today’s smart phones?)

A Step Forward for Food Safety

On Wednesday, we launched the Walmart Food Safety Collaboration Center in Beijing. The center is part of a $25 million investment over the next five years for food safety research in China. And that’s not the only news from China: Doug McMillon sat down with Bloomberg News to discuss a range of other things happening.

It’s an Honor Just to be Nominated

But it’s even better when you win 2016 Mango Retailer of the Year! We have so many people to thank: Our associates that put mangoes on our shelves, our customers that keep coming back to buy mangoes, the farmers that grow these delicious fruits … Oh no, they’re playing the “hurry up and finish” music, so go watch this video on how to slice the mango you just bought.

Now Playing on Your TV

Vudu Movies on Us lets you stream thousands of movies and TV shows for free with limited commercials. If you haven’t checked out the lineup, there’s some pretty good stuff: True Grit, School of Rock, Mad Max, and Point Break. Sounds like your weekend plans are set.

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#FiveThingsFriday: Malibu Comes to Arkansas, and a Birth Story Worth Checking Out

ICYMI: Rum, a new baby, a lost locket and pumpkins a-plenty. Oh, and the largest single-day health event in America. It’s an odd list with one thing in common – it’s all news in the world of Walmart this week.

If You Like Pina Coladas…

Arkansas got a bit more tropical this week when Pernod Ricard began bottling Malibu Rum at its plant in Fort Smith. This reshoring effort will bring an additional 6,000 man hours to the plant over the next year, which translates into more hours for existing workers and additional seasonal and full-time employment. An estimated 150,000 cases will be bottled in the plant that also produces Kahlua Liqueur, Seagram's Gin and Smithworks Vodka. Cheers!

Price Check on Bouncing Baby Boy

On Sunday morning, our Payson, Utah, store inadvertently hosted a reenactment of the 2000 film “Where the Heart Is” when customer Cecelia Rivas went into labor when she was checking out. Customers and associates helped Cecelia deliver baby Matias right there at the cash register. Mom and baby are doing well, and the store will be welcoming them back for a proper baby shower soon.

More Wellness for Your Weekend

This Saturday, October 15, every Walmart store in the U.S. will be hosting Walmart Wellness Day, the largest single-day health fair in the country. From noon to 4 p.m., local time, you can get free blood glucose, blood pressure, vision screenings (where available), product samples and information on health insurance options. We’ll have lots of companies in store handing out free samples, from Dannon to Johnson & Johnson. And since no exciting Saturday is complete without a round of shots, we’re also offering low-cost immunizations.

Lost, But Found

Tampa associate Pamela Martini made it a personal mission to reunite a heart-shaped locket she found in her store with its rightful owner. Customers lose lots of items in our stores, but Pamela knew that this piece of jewelry was different; it had a man’s name and two dates engraved on it, and the inside contained ashes. She searched online, posted to Facebook, talked to customers, and even reached out to her local news station. Her determinedness paid off when she was able to reunite the locket with the woman who owned it.

It’s the Great Pumpkin … Farmer!

Sarah Frey has been supplying Walmart with pumpkins for about 20 years. She got her start with us when she was still a teenager helping out the family farm. Her business has grown from 80 acres to about 15,000, and she’s expanding beyond the bright orange gourds you pick up for Jack-O-Lanterns. Sarah is introducing Pumpkins of the World, exotic pumpkins aimed at cooks. We’re all familiar with the canned pumpkin used for Thanksgiving pie, but have you heard of Jarrahdales or Chioggias? No, we didn’t make those up, but they could be the next big food trend. Fun fact: Did you know that the pumpkins you carve up for Halloween are known as “jacks”? Store that one away for your next trivia night.

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