Uneven Gains For Graduates Of Walmart U.

In Economy On

Walmart was once considered to be a pariah of rural America, vilified by some — especially people who shopped elsewhere — for wiping out local businesses by selling cheap goods made in China. Now, Walmart is rebranding itself as a company focused on the needs of its workers and the fate of small towns and hardscrabble cities.

In the past year, Walmart has spent about $650,000 running television ads about Walmart Academy, according to Alphonso, a TV data company. It has spent $17.6 million on an ad highlighting the company’s commitment to buy $250 billion in goods made or grown in America. That ad features scenes of factory workers and their families set to the squeals of Aerosmith’s “Dream On.”

. . .

Specifically, Fulton was home to a factory that made Nestlé Crunch bars. On humid days, before a summer rain, the smell of chocolate wafted through the city.

The company shut the factory and moved operations to Wisconsin in 2003 to consolidate its production facilities and “increase the utilization of assets,” a Nestlé spokeswoman said in an email.

“I think what everyone misses most,” said Geoff Raponi, manager of the Fulton Walmart Supercenter, “is the smell.”

They also miss the jobs — more than 1,500 of them when the factory was booming in the mid-1980s, according to Mayor Woodward. The local Walmart has about 300 employees.

Mac Guile, 24, was not quite 6 years old when the chocolate works closed. He was living with his grandmother, who poured molten chocolate into bars, and his grandfather, who delivered supplies to the factory. They lived in a spacious house across from a McDonald’s, where Mr. Guile was known as the store’s mascot because of his name — Mac — and the fact that he ate breakfast there almost every day.

After Nestlé left town, Mr. Guile moved with his grandparents into a trailer. There were no more daily McDonald’s breakfasts, and often there was little food at all. Mr. Guile and his younger brother took baths with water warmed on the stove.

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