For a company the size of Walmart, its Buy American commitment is tiny. It should make it much bigger.

Posted by mmcmullan on 02/21/2014

Last week I got all hot under the collar after manufacturing enthusiast and cable-news bon vivant Mike Rowe casually dismissed the critics of Walmart who noted the company's outsized responsibility in running up America's trade deficit.

Rowe, you’ll recall, provided the voiceover for import-fueled retail behemoth Walmart's latest Buy American advertisement, and he just can't understand the scorn that the import-fueled (my term) retail behemoth (an Associated Press term) received in response.

Isn't this something we can all get behind? he asked. And after cooling down and a little consideration: By gum, Rowe's right! Kinda.

Walmart’s role in harming American manufacturing may grate, but perspective is important. After all, we’re talking about a company that leaves a Kong-sized footprint on the American economy, and whose total revenue neared $470 billion last year. The moves it makes matter, and even if its Buy American campaign is a self-serving one, it’s one we’re definitely behind. The only (huge) sticking point is that $5 billion – its annual commitment to more American-made goods – is basically a rounding error to Walmart, when what it could be doing in terms of its American manufacturing commitment is more. Much more. An awful lot more.

So, Walmart, why not double that annual commitment?

Check it out: WeatherTech – or, more specifically, MacNeill Automotive, an auto accessory manufacturer in Illinois – goes out of its way not only to make all of its products in America with American workers, but to buy American-made production equipment whenever possible. The company even attempted to source all of the construction materials for its manufacturing facilities within the U.S. Heck, so did we at the Alliance for American Manufacturing when we moved into our new Washington, DC office.

Walmart is no manufacturer, but it does gobble up a lot of real estate for its stores. In fact, the company spent an average of $5.359 billion over the last two years on store construction and repairs. Or put another way: Walmart spent about $360 million more last year on new Walmart locations than it has committed to its annual Buy American pledge.

The people running the country’s largest retailer aren’t dummies. They know that polls show that Americans place a high value on American-made goods. They’re getting some solid PR buzz out of the brouhaha regarding their Mike Rowe commercial (and it’s free PR, too, as Rowe is quick to attest; they’re not even paying him to sell out).

But instead of galvanizing both its supporters and critics, the retail behemoth could show that it’s serious by putting its endless money where its mouth is. Really love American manufacturing, Walmart? Double your $5 billion annual commitment to American-made goods, and maybe we'll stop rolling our eyes.

Photo by Flickr User Brave New Films/Photo credit Ryan Conway. Used following Creative Commons guidelines!

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