Wal-Mart supplier event duo set in Arkansas

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. will combine its open call for suppliers and its U.S. Manufacturing Summit into one event this year and host it in Arkansas.

Michelle Gloeckler , executive vice president of the consumables division and U.S. manufacturing for Wal-Mart, and Cindi Marsiglio, vice president of U.S. manufacturing for Wal-Mart, told members of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission of the retailer's plans on Thursday. Wal-Mart's U.S. Manufacturing Summit and the open call will be held in Bentonville July 7-8.

"We as a retailer want to facilitate and accelerate," Marsiglio told the commission. "It was not lost on us to bring this event here to Bentonville. There was a lot of discussion about it. ... It's important for us. We want them to see Arkansas, how we do business, our corporate office."

Gloeckler met with members of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission board to outline key components of Wal-Mart's Made in the USA initiative. Both the open call and the manufacturing meeting are part of Wal-Mart's commitment to increasing manufacturing opportunities in the United States.

Wal-Mart committed in 2013 to purchasing $250 billion in U.S.-made products by 2023.

Last year's open call, which Gloeckler compared to "speed dating" for suppliers and buyers, resulted in more than 800 meetings at the home office in Bentonville.

Wal-Mart's 2014 Manufacturing Summit in Denver drew manufacturers, suppliers, governors and mayors from 42 states. A year earlier for such a meeting, the retailer drew approximately 1,500 people representing 32 states and 500 supplier companies.

Representatives from the state, including from the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, attended previous Manufacturing Summits.

Arkansas is looking for ways to capitalize on the Made in the USA initiative. As suppliers with operations overseas look to the U.S. for manufacturing opportunities, there is potential for Arkansas to land some of that business.

Marsiglio told the commission that Arkansas was "extremely competitive on the short list" of states hoping to land manufacturers looking to relocate. As positives working in the state's favor, she cited incentive packages, business climate and the ability to move "quickly."

Among the challenges expressed by the the development commission is helping with financing for equipment that might take 15 years to pay off when Wal-Mart contracts are generally for less than three years. Encouraging suppliers to diversify the products offered and the retailers they sell to is important, Gloeckler told the commission.

"We don't want to be anyone's sole customer," Gloeckler said, telling the commission it prefers that suppliers do no more than one-third of their business with Wal-Mart. "Who are you selling to beyond Wal-Mart? What are you doing beyond that?"

Helping suppliers understand what Wal-Mart is looking for is among the goals of the open-call event and the Manufacturing Summit. When a state hosts such a meeting, suppliers gain easier access for evaluating incentives, available land, proximity to interstate highways and other factors considered when they're doing site selection.

Chris Neeley, executive vice president of manufacturing consulting firm Made in the USA Works, said hosting the event in Arkansas makes sense because suppliers will eventually have to make their way to Bentonville. Neeley's company is focused on helping manufacturers who want to become Wal-Mart suppliers, and Neeley is a former director of public affairs for Wal-Mart.

"I like the fact they decided to bring it home," Neeley said. "Let's do it right here in our own state, right here in Bentonville where Wal-Mart is headquartered. This is an opportunity for companies to bring our clients in and have them right here at the home office. We'll be able to showcase the state and what Northwest Arkansas has to offer."

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