Business in brief: 03-29-21

Walmart announces annual Open Call

The application process for Walmart’s eighth annual Open Call is now open, and the company invites Hawaii entrepreneurs dreaming of landing their products on Walmart shelves and online to apply for the opportunity to meet with Walmart buyers on June 30 via virtual pitch meetings.

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The deadline to apply for participation in this year’s Open Call for products made, grown or assembled in the United States is April 30. The application and additional information about the event are available via this link.

The June 30 virtual event will include similar programming to last year. In addition to one-on-one pitch meetings with Walmart merchants, participants will have an opportunity to hear directly from Walmart executives at the hour-long kickoff of the event. Smaller breakout sessions will be available throughout the day where suppliers can learn more on valuable topics and about resources available to them.

“Open Call is like watching the American Dream play out in real time,” said Laura Phillips, Walmart senior vice president for Global Sourcing &US Manufacturing. “You see on full display the spirit and energy of new ideas and the hope of what could be — founded on creativity, hard work, and self-belief. It’s inspiring. Walmart’s announcement earlier this month to spend an additional $350 billion on products made, grown or assembled in America makes Open Call even more exciting and important. We know how much this opportunity means to small businesses, and we can’t wait to see the new product submissions from potential new suppliers.”

This year’s Open Call attendees could secure opportunities that range from promoting products in a handful of stores in local markets to supplying products to hundreds, even thousands, of Walmart stores, Sam’s Clubs and online.

Apply for Open Call by visiting www.walmart-jump.com.

$2.5M grant program has helped 105 small farms on Maui

WAILUKU, Maui — A $2.5 million grant program in Hawaii has assisted 105 small farms across Maui County with a wide range of equipment, supplies and website development support.

Maui County’s Agricultural Micro Grants Program, which is administered by the private nonprofit Maui Economic Opportunity, has provided 105 grants for farming operations that cultivate fruit, vegetables, livestock, Native Hawaiian plants and medicinal plants, the Maui News reported Thursday.

The newspaper reported that the money has been used for farming equipment and machinery; processing and storage equipment; farm expansion; supplies, including fertilizers, seeds, plants and small tools; packing and packaging materials; marketing services, including website development; health and safety upgrades; and professional development and education.

Payments for the grant program have been made directly to vendors, according to Maui Economic Opportunity.

The organization said it received more than 220 grant applications from October through January. Maui Economic Opportunity Business Center Director David Daly said there are currently more than 80 applicants waitlisted.

Small farms can receive grants for up to $25,000. To qualify, farms had to have state general excise tax numbers and their owners were required to reside in Maui County.

Preference was given to historically underprivileged applicants, such as women and Native Hawaiians. Farms that produce food and operate on fewer 12 acres were also prioritized for grants.

Wage data show US workers earn 19% less than federal estimates

American workers are making less than official estimates show, according to new analysis.

U.S. workers earn a median weekly wage of $797, or $41,456 a year, according to the Ludwig Institute for Shared Economic Prosperity, which analyzed data up until 2020. That’s 19% below official estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a widely-used measure of pay.

The data also show a wider earnings disparity by race than traditional data. White workers’ wages rose 16% in the past two decades while Black Americans experienced a more tepid 7.9% advance. Labor Department figures show wages for the two groups rising at 12% and 10%, respectively.

“The bottom line is that things aren’t actually getting better for the average worker,” said Gene Ludwig, founder of the organization and chairman of financial consulting firm Promontory Financial Group who served as President Clinton’s Comptroller of the Currency. “You can’t make good policy without knowing what the facts are.”

The research comes at a time when policy makers are re-evaluating a range of traditional economic data. The Federal Reserve is looking at broader measures of employment, for example, to judge the strength of the labor market. Some in President Joe Biden’s administration want to focus more on equity when measuring the economy’s performance.

US merchandise-trade deficit widens to biggest on record

The U.S. merchandise-trade deficit widened to the biggest on record in February as imports dropped from an all-time high and exports retreated by a larger margin.

The deficit grew to $86.7 billion from a revised $84.6 billion in January, according to Commerce Department data released Friday. Economists in a Bloomberg survey had called for an $86 billion shortfall in February. Imports fell 1.4% to $216.9 billion, while exports decreased 3.8% to $130.1 billion, the first drop since May.

Demand from American companies and consumers has been propelling U.S. merchandise imports to record highs, overwhelming U.S. ports, even as exports remain sluggish. Freight rates have soared after a trade boom in the second half of last year caught container producers by surprise, leaving them to scramble to meet a surge in demand.

Inbound products have clogged the nation’s biggest ports, from Savannah, Georgia, on the East Coast to Los Angeles — the biggest gateway for trade with Asia. And that was before a massive container ship blocked the Suez Canal, forcing carriers and other vessels to weigh costly and time-consuming voyages around Africa that threaten to destabilize the already fragile underpinnings of global trade.

Meanwhile, a global shortage of semiconductors has idled production at some auto plants and prompted President Joe Biden to direct his administration to address shortfalls in production of the chips as it reviews supply chains.

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Overall, the value of U.S. exports plus imports dropped for the first time since May, declining to $347 billion in February, a reflection of supply-chain bottlenecks and semiconductor shortages.

By wire sources

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