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MBA Students, Walmart Work to Boost Idaho Manufacturing

IMG_8502For years, Walmart’s ads have proclaimed them the “low-priced leader.” And for years, some have criticized the largest retailer in the world on that very issue, noting that those low prices often seem to be on products made in countries with very low labor rates.

In response, Walmart has started an ambitious program to reverse the trend and bring manufacturing jobs back to the United States.

The company reached out to several states, including Idaho, for help in their efforts at re-shoring. They want to source an additional $50 billion worth of American-made goods over the next decade and asked governors if their states would like a piece of the action.

After a meeting with Walmart executives, Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter reached out to Boise State President Bob Kustra for help figuring out how Idaho companies might benefit. Kustra suggested a team of MBA students might be right for the challenge.

“We thought this was a good project for our Career Track MBA students,” said Kirk Smith, associate dean in the College of Business and Economics. “So we recruited a small team of interested students and then were fortunate enough to convince Rick Seymour, a retired Hewlett-Packard executive, to mentor them.”

Under Seymour’s guidance, the students have worked since last fall with the Idaho Department of Commerce, Walmart executives and several Idaho businesses to tackle the question, “How can Idaho businesses capture some of that $50 billion?”

In late March, the MBA students met with Governor Otter and offered three strategies:

  1. Match companies that already are making what Walmart needs, and connect them to existing opportunities. Educate Idaho businesses on how to work with Walmart.
  2. Grow new suppliers by finding serial entrepreneurs who used to live in Idaho but have moved to other states. Convince them to return and start a supplier business.
  3. Entice some of Walmart’s existing international suppliers to relocate manufacturing operations to Idaho. 

The students, who all tackled the problem on a volunteer basis, interviewed quite a few local manufacturers. They found that many of them quickly dismissed the idea of selling to Walmart because either they were intimidated by the mega-store’s status or because they had absolutely no idea of how to start the process of becoming a Walmart supplier.

Based on those findings, the students are creating “Walmart 101,” a short video to help Idaho companies find out quickly what it takes to do business with Walmart. The video will be available statewide through local chambers of commerce, who can show it to members and follow up with a question-and-answer session.

Otter called the students’ multi-faceted plan promising, adding “I look forward to this plan being put in motion and to Idaho’s promising business future with young people like these at the helm.”

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