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.
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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).
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"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
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.”