Wal-Mart's Simon Urges Efforts on U.S. Manufacturing Jobs

Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s U.S. chief Bill Simon urged companies to create domestic manufacturing jobs, saying the effort is good for businesses as it cuts costs by having goods produced closer to where they are consumed.

“We want to move forward and seize the opportunity to bring jobs back,” Simon said today at an event in Orlando, Florida. “We can’t become solely a service economy. We need to make things in America.”

Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, organized the two-day conference that drew almost 1,500 government officials and business leaders, to discuss the importance of retaining and increasing manufacturing jobs in the U.S. Wal-Mart and its suppliers at the summit announced plans to create more than 1,000 American jobs, including 150 at General Electric Co. to make energy-efficient light bulbs.

“Some categories are easy to bring back, and we should go after them,” Simon told the gathering, which was webcast by Wal-Mart. “There’s low-hanging fruit that we’re already starting to pick. Others will be a stretch, but we should reach for those too.”

The Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer pledged earlier this year to buy an additional $50 billion in American-made products over the next 10 years.

The event today, held at the Orlando Convention Center, was attended by U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and the governors of eight states, six Republicans and two Democrats.

Tax Breaks

While President Obama and other Democrats have called for increasing the federal minimum wage, Republican governors at the event said survival of the U.S. manufacturing industry hinged on keeping labor costs low. They also suggested eliminating regulations, speeding up the permitting process and offering special tax breaks and incentives as ways of encouraging companies to stay in or relocate to the U.S.

“Today, if we would somehow decide that we were going to go up on minimum wage, all of this momentum would go away,” Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant, a Republican, said in an interview. “It would just cease. It would be a bucket of cold water thrown upon the energy and excitement that’s going on here now,” said Bryant.

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley criticized unions for pressuring employers to increase wages.

“I wear heels, and it’s not for a fashion statement -- it’s because we kick,” said Haley. “And we kicked those unions hard, and they will not set foot in the state of South Carolina.”

Compensation Costs

West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, a Democrat, said his state is also looking to lower the cost of doing business, including reducing employers’ costs for worker’s compensation by 60 percent.

“It’s been over 18 years since we’ve had a general tax increase in the state of West Virginia,” he said. “Actually, we continue to lower our taxes, which obviously helps businesses.”

In Washington, Wal-Mart is considering canceling plans to build new stores after the city council passed a bill that would require the company to pay its workers at least $12.50 an hour.

Shares in the retailer fell less than 1 percent to $73.46 at the close in New York. The shares have gained 7.7 percent this year, compared with a 16 percent increase for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

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