NEW YORK — Why wait on Washington to fix the economy when there's Wal-Mart?
Wal-Mart Stores, the world's largest retailer and the biggest private employer in the U.S. with 1.4 million workers here, said Tuesday that it is rolling out a three-part plan to help jump-start the sluggish U.S. economy.
The plan includes hiring more than 100,000 veterans in the next five years, which was reported in Tuesday's Tampa Bay Times. It also calls for spending $50 billion to buy more American-made merchandise in the next 10 years and helping its part-time workers move into full-time positions sooner.
The move comes as Wal-Mart attempts to bolster its reputation, which has been hit in the past year by an alleged bribery scandal in Mexico and a deadly fire at a Bangladesh factory that supplies clothes to the company. The company, which often is criticized for its low-paying jobs and buying habits in the U.S., said it wants to highlight career opportunities in the retail industry, which supports one in four jobs in the country. Wal-Mart certainly is in a position to boost the U.S. economy: With $444 billion in annual revenue, if Wal-Mart were a country, it would rank among the largest economies in the world.
"The beauty of the private sector is that we don't have to win an election, convince Congress or pass a bill to do what we think is right. We can simply move forward, doing what we know is right," Bill Simon, president and CEO of Wal-Mart's U.S. business, said Tuesday at a retail industry convention in New York.
Wal-Mart said it will spend $50 billion to buy more products made in the U.S. over the next 10 years, with plans to focus on buying more in areas such as sporting goods, fashion basics, storage products, games and paper products.
Simon cited one supplier called 1888 Mills, which made most of its towels overseas, but had an underutilized factory in Griffin, Ga. Wal-Mart said it worked with the supplier on a couple of innovations and now the factory is hiring again. The towels made in the U.S. will be in 600 of its stores this spring, and another 600 stores by the fall. The towels' label will say "Made Here."
Wal-Mart also plans to help part-time workers transition into full-time employment if they so desire. Simon said that about 75 percent of its store management team start as hourly associates, and their average pay is $50,000 to $170,000 a year.
At the center of Wal-Mart's plan is a pledge to hire veterans, many of whom have come home from Afghanistan or Iraq and had a particularly hard time finding jobs.
Wal-Mart said it plans to hire every veteran who wants a job and has been honorably discharged in the first 12 months off active duty. The program, which will start on Memorial Day, will include jobs mostly in Wal-Mart's stores or in Sam's Club locations.
Dave Tovar, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said Wal-Mart hasn't worked out the details but it will "match up the veterans' experience and qualifications."
In coming weeks, Simon said the White House will meet with the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Defense and major U.S. employers to encourage businesses to make commitments to train and employ America's returning veterans. On Tuesday, first lady Michelle Obama called Wal-Mart's announcement "historic."