Retailers, not politicians, can renew U.S. economy

Walmart U.S. president and CEO Bill Simon isn’t running for elected office, but he sure sounded like a politician earlier this week as he laid out a three-tiered plan the retail industry can implement to restore U.S. economic growth.

Speaking to an audience of several thousand people inside a cavernous hall at the National Retail Federation convention in New York, Simon told other retailers in attendance that the fate of the U.S. economy is in their hands and he implored them to stop waiting for politicians in Washington to fix the problem. In a presentation titled, "A job to do: Retail’s role in an American renewal," Simon said the nation has become paralyzed as business waits for the economy to improve.

"The beauty of the private sector is we don’t have to win an election, convince Congress to pass a bill to do what we think we need to do. We can just move forward doing what we know is right and what we are capable of doing and that is growing our businesses," Simon said. "The time for waiting is over. It is time for us to move forward," he added, borrowing a central theme from President Obama’s re-election campaign.

Simon said the retail industry has to lead on the issue of jobs and economic growth if it wants to create a larger pie that enables widespread growth for all industry participants. Doing so will help the industry break out of the zero sum paradigm that was created by the recession and has created sharp distinctions between winners and losers.

According to Simon, retailers can revive the economy by creating new job opportunities, providing opportunities to those who need jobs and increasing sourcing of U.S. manufactured goods thanks to shifting supply chain considerations that have made domestic sourcing a more viable alternative. For its part, Walmart said it plans to buy an additional $50 billion worth of merchandise over the next 10 years and hire as many as 100,000 U.S. veterans during the next five years. Beginning Memorial Day, Simon said Walmart will offer a job to any honorably discharged veteran in their first 12 months off active duty.

"Hiring a veteran can be one of the best business decisions you make," said Simon, a veteran himself. "Veterans have a record of performance under pressure. They're quick learners and team players. 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."

Given those attributes, Simon said he could think of no better group than veterans to play a central role in the revitalization of the U.S. economy. While most of the headlines from the event focused on the specific actions Walmart is taking with U.S. sourcing and the hiring of veterans, the majority of Simon’s remarks were focused on the collective power that resides with the retail industry. If industry participants step up, increase hiring and rethink their supply chains to involve more U.S. manufacturers, the retail industry can stop waiting to see what the monthly jobs report says before taking action because retailers will have helped write it.