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

By Emily Schmid
July 16, 2015
U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker Speaking at 2015 U.S. Manufacturing Summit

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.

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.