The following insight is from Forbes.
American manufacturing has been on a steady growth streak for years now, but that wasn’t always the case. Back in the middle to late 1980s, U.S. industry was mired in a long, severe slump, and had been shedding plants and workers since the 1970s.
The U.S. Congress and President Ronald Reagan stepped into the fray to try to help with the Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988. One element of that law was the establishment of the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) under the auspices of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the subsequent development of the MEP National Network.
“The MEP National Network is focused on U.S. small and medium-sized manufacturers, on boosting manufacturing jobs and accelerating industry growth,” said James Watson, President and CEO of California Manufacturing Technology Consulting (CMTC), one of the 51 MEP Centers that make up the MEP National Network. “Our 51 Centers have over 400 service locations, and close to 1,300 field staff who serve as trusted business advisors and technical experts. And we extend our service offerings by working with nearly 2,100 partners nationwide.”
The Centers – one in every state, plus one in Puerto Rico – were individually selected, through a competitive process, to represent their states or territory as part of the Network. Each Center typically works with manufacturers in their state, but can also collaborate across borders to pull in expertise as needed or to participate in multi-state projects. Regardless of location, the high-level objective for the manufacturing support the Centers provide is to increase productivity and competitiveness and to accelerate business growth. The disciplines included as part of this help include areas such as:
- Cybersecurity Services
- New Product Development
- Business Continuity
- Lean and Quality Management
- Supply Chain
- Technology Scouting and Technology Driven Market Intelligence
- Workforce Development
The MEP Program Office, headquartered in Gaithersburg, Maryland, hosts a team that helps coordinate Center activities and administers the overall program. The MEP Program Office and NIST are housed together, providing additional technical expertise from NIST’s labs and programs to Centers and their manufacturing clients.
“There are a number of big challenges MEP Centers are currently helping manufacturers address,” Watson said. “Whether it’s developing a skilled workforce, improving sales, enhancing productivity, assisting with technologies such as robotics or additive manufacturing, or just connecting manufacturers with partners to augment our services, we can help.”
It’s that total focus on U.S. manufacturing – and specifically, on small and medium size companies– that makes the MEP National Network unique. “We’re a one-stop resource devoted exclusively to manufacturing,” said Watson. “It doesn’t matter what kind of manufacturing it is – we know the industry, and our clients can be confident that we know what we’re talking about.” The Centers look to those clients to provide feedback on their performance, too, capturing their impact from completed projects through participation with 3rd party surveys. These surveys measure the results of the services Centers provide. According to last year’s surveys, in FY 2018 the MEP National Network interacted with 27,707 manufacturers, leading to $16.0 billion in new and retained sales, $1.7 billion in cost savings, $4.0 billion in new client investments, and helping to create or retain more than 122,000 jobs.
It’s easy for a manufacturer to get started with the MEP National Network. There is an MEP resource within three hours of every manufacturer in the U.S. The NIST MEP website has a page listing all the states and Puerto Rico, so it’s simply a matter of selecting the appropriate one. This will take the user to a page with information about that specific Center, including case studies and contact information.
A unique public/private partnership model makes MEP services affordable for U.S. small and medium-sized manufacturers. It is a cost-share program, with financial contributions from federal, state and local governments in some states, and clients. Watson stressed that the program focuses on the vast majority of manufacturers in our nation. “The size of companies we work with represent more than 98% of all U.S. manufacturers,” he said. “Approximately 75% have 20 employees or less. But they’re the ones who significantly contribute to job growth – and high paying jobs, too – making a positive financial impact on their communities as they grow.”
He also stressed the changes he’s seen in manufacturing over the time he’s been involved. “There are a lot of misperceptions about manufacturing out there,” he explained. “It’s no longer the dirty, dangerous workplace people have heard about. Increasingly, it’s innovative and it’s high tech.” Since one of the key objectives of the MEP National Network is connecting companies with skilled workers. With a retiring workforce, he sees that it is imperative that we get young people interested in working in manufacturing again. “We need to build an awareness of the attractive aspects of manufacturing through programs like Manufacturing Day and highlight the impact manufacturing can have on improving our communities and people’s lives,” he said.
“I’ve been involved with the MEP National Network for 19 years now,” Watson said. “I couldn’t be more proud of being part of it than I am today.”
Read the full article in Forbes.