U.S. Senator Mark Pryor visited Conway’s Virco factory on Friday as part of a tour to promote his "American-Made Strong" package of bills hoped to incentivize domestic manufacturing.
Bill S.2682, would require "substantially all of the iron, steel, wood products, cement and manufactured goods" used in federal projects be American-made. It would also provide a sliding-scale for new federally-funded airports, trains and railway cars to be eligible for federal funding only if 60 percent of their iron, steel and other components are American-made in 2015, increasing by ten-percent increments to 100 percent by 2019.
The head of a federal agency could request a waiver if they find that using a domestic product "would be inconsistent with the public interest" or would increase total project schedule or cost by more than 25 percent (50 percent for department of defense projects).
Also, S.2681, introduced by Pryor, provides grants of no more than $100 million and government loans for businesses eliminating business resources and overseas in favor of domestic resources and jobs. This bill would also end tax deductions to defray costs of moving operations overseas.
Another bill introduced by Pryor, S.2680 would create a voluntary "America Star" label for domestic goods — a label along the lines of "Energy Star" labeling for efficient appliances.
Pryor’s visit to Virco’s factory on Sturgis Road comes at a time when the company is a few weeks away from getting a product back in Walmart stores. Virco used to have a lucrative contract to make the metal folding chairs that Walmart sold, but in the late 1990s Walmart contracted with an overseas manufacturer instead.
Now, with what Pryor described as a narrowing gap between the cost of importing some goods from China and making them domestically, Walmart has begun an initiative to bring more American-made goods to market in its stores, including an initial trial run of a child-sized table and chair that will be made in Conway’s Virco plant.
Getting a product back in Walmart would be "huge," Virco marketing director Steve Presley said during Pryor’s visit. Presley also said there was optimism that Walmart might again be interested in Virco folding chairs.