Wal-Mart creates fund to back US manufacturing

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Wal-Mart Stores Inc, the world's largest retailer, said on Thursday it has created a $10 million (S$12.7 million) fund to support manufacturing in the United States, and that one of its bicycle suppliers plans to start production in the U.S. this year.

Bill Simon, Wal-Mart's US president, said at the United States Conference of Mayors' winter meeting in Washington, DC, that Wal-Mart and its philanthropic arm, the Walmart Foundation, will provide the funds for the five-year program, offering grants to innovators in U.S. manufacturing.

The announcement was the latest in Wal-Mart's year-old push to boost U.S. manufacturing. It has vowed to buy an additional US$50 billion in US-made products over the next decade.

A number of the company's long-time suppliers are returning production to the United States, as rising wages in China and elsewhere have made offshore production less lucrative.

Kent International, a New Jersey-based bicycle maker, announced with Wal-Mart on Thursday that it will move its production to Clarendon, South Carolina, and create 175 new jobs and assemble 500,000 bicycles annually by 2016.

Kent said it had moved all of its production overseas in 1990s because of lower costs of production abroad. The company's bicycles are sold at Walmart, Target and a variety of other retailers, according to Kent's website.

Wal-Mart is the largest private employer in the world and employs around 1.3 million people in the United States.