The president of Wal-Mart’s U.S. operations, William Simon, announced in a keynote speech at the National Retail Federation conference that the world’s largest retailer wants to be the biggest employer of U.S. military veterans. Simon, a Navy veteran, says his company will hire 100,000 military veterans over the next five years, so long as they have an honorable discharge.

On top of that, Simon said the retail giant will spend an additional $50 billion out of the company’s $455 billion in annual revenue on American-made goods over the next 10 years, countering criticism that its products come cheaply made from countries like China.  

First Lady Michelle Obama has called Wal-Mart’s initiative "historic". The First Lady, along with Jill Biden, runs the Administration’s “Joining Forces” program, which zeroes in on finding work for unemployed veterans. 

"Walmart is setting a groundbreaking example for the private sector to follow,” the First Lady says.

Veteran joblessness is a significant problem, with the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans sticking at 10.8% in December, three percentage points higher than the overall rate. Wal-Mart (WMT) already is likely the nation's largest employer of veterans. An estimated 100,000 military veterans work for Wal-Mart, out of the retailer’s 1.4 million employees in the U.S. — a workforce that’s the size of the entire U.S. military in and of itself.

Simon in his keynote speech says that the company isn't just launching the program for feel-good patriotism (or to counter negative PR from union protests). 

"Hiring a veteran can be one of the best decisions any of us can make," Simon said in his speech in New York City. "They are leaders with discipline, training, and a passion for service. There is a seriousness and sense of purpose that the military instills, and we need it today more than ever."

He added: “Now we all know that hiring a vet can be one of the best decisions any of us can make. vets have a record of performance under pressure, quick learners and team players.”

Simon noted that his “first job was as a dishwasher in a restaurant for $2.10 an hour.” He said: “When I came off active duty in the Navy, I needed some time to make decisions. I ended up in another restaurant job – tending bar – and I can only say a heartfelt thank you to Tommy Condon’s Irish Pub in Charleston, South Carolina.”

Simon also said: “America is still the biggest manufacturer in the world. And I know according to urban legend Wal-Mart’s shelves are filled with foreign products. But the truth may surprise you. Don’t forget, we run a pretty large grocery business. According to data from our suppliers, items that are made here, sourced here, or grown here account for about two-thirds of what we spend to buy products at Wal-Mart
U.S.”

Simon also noted that “labor costs in Asia are rising” and “oil and transportation costs are high and increasingly uncertain. The equation is changing. And a few manufacturers have even told Wal-Mart privately that they have defined the ‘tipping points’ at which manufacturing abroad will no longer make sense for them.”

Elizabeth MacDonald joined FOX Business Network (FBN) as stocks editor in September 2007 and is the author of Skirting Heresy: The Life and Times of Margery Kempe (Franciscan Media, June 2014).
Follow Elizabeth MacDonald on Twitter @LizMacDonaldFOX.