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Wal-Mart hosts U.S. manufacturing summit

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Wal-Mart Stores Inc. spearheaded an effort Thursday to bring together retailers, suppliers and government officials to figure out how to bring more manufacturing jobs to the United States.

The world's largest retailer hosted a two-day summit in Orlando, hoping to capitalize on its recent commitment to drive more manufacturing in the United States. The "Made in the USA" campaign could boost Wal-Mart's image, which is constantly under attack by labor-backed groups that have criticized the retail behemoth as a destroyer of U.S. jobs rather than a creator.

The goal of the summit was to start "connecting the dots" with a dialogue among the 500 manufacturers, officials from three dozen states, eight governors and U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker at the conference, said Bill Simon, president and CEO of the company's U.S. division.

"It could be difficult for one at a time, all of us on our own," Simon said. "The best way to overcome the challenges is to talk to one another."

The summit comes seven months after the Bentonville, Ark.-based discounter pledged to buy $50 billion more U.S.-made goods over the next decade. That's the equivalent of just more than 10 percent of what Wal-Mart will sell at retail this year.

Several companies were quick to get into the spirit at the summit, announcing plans to add manufacturing jobs.

Jeff Immelt, chairman and CEO of General Electric Corp., said GE would bring 150 jobs to plants in Illinois and Ohio, where high-efficient lighting will be built. "We wanted to be a part of this," Immelt said.

Some experts are skeptical, pointing out that Wal-Mart led the migration of manufacturing jobs overseas in search of cheap labor. "It's a very positive PR move for the company," said Burt Flickinger III, president of retail consultancy Strategic Resource Group. "But it took two decades to unwind the American manufacturing base, and it will take two decades to bring it back." -- AP

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