Kenney touted in campaign to bring customers American-made products

Warwick Beacon ·

What could be more American than a curtain rod made in Warwick at Kenney Manufacturing?

That was just the point Walmart made at an event Wednesday that briefly silenced Kenney operations as Kenney president and CEO Leslie Kenney, Christopher Buchanan of Walmart and House Majority Leader K. Joseph Shekarchi addressed local officials, the news media and Kenney employees. A handful of employees – some of who have been working at Kenney for 30 years – also played a role in the event through a short video featuring Kenney.

While the family-run company now celebrating its 105th anniversary is a story in its own right, it was the relationship with Walmart, and Walmart’s effort to sell American-made products, that held the spotlight.

“Economic opportunity and job creation are on the minds of elected officials, lawmakers and, most importantly, our customers…all across the country,” said Buchanan, director of public affairs and government relations for Walmart. “And it’s becoming increasingly complex with high-stakes trade negotiations and the shifting economics that policies like tariffs create. The fact that you’re here shows that you want to be a part of the solution.”

Buchanan said Walmart committed in 2013 to buy an additional $250 billion in products that support American jobs by 2023. He said the argument for U.S.-made goods is strong, citing rising international shipping costs, the efficiency of sourcing goods closer to home and, in some cases, lower costs and higher quality.

“Plus, made in the USA matters to our customers – 85 percent of our customers said it was important for retailers to carry products made or assembled in America,” he said.

Kenney talked about the origins of the company and how his father, Dick, transformed Kenney from a small regional manufacturer into an international company employing more than 300 people. He also referenced a letter sent by Walmart founder Sam Walton in 1985 to Kenney and other suppliers articulating his concern over the trade deficit and manufacturing leaving this country.

“As with most American manufacturers, we’ve worked hard to stay competitive with low-cost foreign manufacturers, primarily in China,” Kenney said.

He said some phases of its operations have been moved offshore, but that the company stood strong.

“We kept certain production in Rhode Island because the shorter manufacturing lead times, and the common currency, yield significant benefits to our customers,” he said.

Shekarchi commended Kenney Manufacturing for recognizing its strengths and concentrating on them, its contract with Walmart, capitalizing on technology and investing in its employees.

“They have shown that manufacturing works here in Rhode Island and the United States. There are more than 1,600 manufacturing companies in our state, most of which are small businesses and employ about 41,000 Rhode Islanders,” he said.

Shekarchi spoke of the governor and the leadership in the House and the Senate and their commitment to building the economy by investing in education and job development.

“We want to spread the word about companies like Kenney who can show others that Rhode Island is open for business,” he said.

Shekarchi also recognized Walmart. Citing his personal experience as an attorney who has worked with Walmart, Shekarchi said while it is the largest company in the world, “it is still family-run. And its leaders do see the value of doing business with family-run businesses like Kenney Manufacturing that put Americans to work.”

With the speaking program completed, plant operations came to life. Kenney led guests to the cafeteria beyond the din, where they were outfitted with safety glasses and ear protectors with headphones and microphones. A tour of the plant was to follow.

And while manufacturing of curtain rods would not seem to be complex or especially advanced – Kenney manufactures 28 million curtain rods annually – the process of manufacturing and Kenney products are constantly evolving. In his remarks and before walking the plant floor, Kenney said the tour would visit a section of the plant where they are developing a new process of manufacturing.

Funded in part by an Innovation Voucher from Rhode Island Commerce Corp., Kenney said the process is so new, “we cannot show you the equipment.”

Photographs of the tour were restricted to certain areas. It’s all part of keeping manufacturing and jobs in America.