Wal-Mart said First Lady Michelle Obama, who spearheaded a White House drive to encourage businesses to hire veterans, has expressed an interest through her team in working with Wal-Mart and with the rest of the business community on this initiative.
In the next several 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 American's returning veterans. The first lady on Tuesday called Wal-Mart's announcement "historic."
"We all believe that no one who serves our country should have to fight for a job once they return home," she said in a statement. "Wal-Mart is setting a groundbreaking example for the private sector to follow."
In addition to hiring veterans, Wal-Mart said that it will spend $50 billion to buy more products made in the U.S. over the next 10 years. According to data from Wal-Mart's suppliers, items that are made, sourced or grown in the U.S. account for about two-thirds of the company's spending on products for its U.S. business.
Wal-Mart said that it plans to focus on buying more in areas such as sporting goods, fashion basics, storage products, games and paper products. The commitment comes as economics are changing for making goods overseas. Labor costs are rising in Asia, while oil and transportation costs are high and increasingly uncertain.
Simon, Wal-Mart's CEO, said that a few of the company's manufacturers have told Wal-Mart that they have defined the "tipping points" at which manufacturing abroad will no longer make sense for them. Simon cited one supplier called 1888 Mills, which made most of its towels overseas, but had an underutilized factory in Griffin, Georgia.
Wal-Mart said it worked with the supplier on a couple of innovations and now the U.S. factory is hiring again. The towels made in the U.S. will be in 600 of its stores this spring, and another 600 stores in by the fall. The towels' label will say "Made Here."
The final piece of Wal-Mart's plan is to help part-time Wal-Mart workers transition into full-time employment if they so desire. Simon said that about 75 percent of its store management start as hourly associates, and their average pay is $50,000 to $170,000 a year.
"There are some fundamental misunderstandings out there about retail jobs, and we need to do better at explaining the opportunities we offer," he said.