Manufacturers may get an additional boost from a beneficial program that helps small and medium-sized companies.
The Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), a program run by the U.S. Department of Commerce, would be expanded and strengthened by the MEP Improvement Act. This legislation was recently introduced in Congress and is widely thought to have a good shot of enactment. If passed, the bipartisan act would:
- Permanently adjust the federal MEP cost share to one-to-one,
- Strengthen and clarify the review process MEP centers use,
- Authorize centers to support the development of manufacturing-related apprenticeships, internships and industry-recognized certification programs,
- Increase the program’s funding level to $260 million a year through 2020, and
- Require the program to develop open-access resources describing best practices for small manufacturers.
Top Shelf Endorsements
The bill has been endorsed by some high-visibility entities, including:
- Information Technology and Innovation Foundation
- American Small Manufacturers Coalition
- Alliance for American Manufacturing
- Honda North America
- Association for Manufacturing Technology
- National Council for Advanced Manufacturing
- Manufacturing Skill Standards Council.
MEP is built on a nationwide system of service centers that are partnerships between the federal government and a variety of public or private entities, including state, university and not-for-profit organizations.Since its inception in 1988, MEP has focused on strengthening the U.S. manufacturing sector. The program’s power lies in its partnerships. Through collaborations with federal, state and local entities, it puts manufacturers in position to develop products and customers, expand globally and adopt new technology.
Return on Investment
Although MEP’s strategic objective is to create value for all manufacturers, it concentrates on small and mid-sized enterprises (SMEs). These account for nearly 99% of manufacturing firms in the United States.
The program has delivered a high return on investment (ROI) to taxpayers. For every dollar of federal investment, MEP generates $17 in new sales growth and $24 in new client investment, according to the program’s website.
MEP’s partnerships are expanding in response to rapidly changing global dynamics. The program has established relationships with diverse organizations. MEP centers also increasingly support government initiatives launched to strengthen U.S. manufacturing. Some of the program’s specific objectives are:
- Educate local and regional partners on SME needs and causes of behavior,
- Connect manufacturers to other programs and services offered by partner organization,
- Identify firms that are interested in a particular technology, as well as informing information technology developers about manufacturer’s technology needs, and
- Support workforce development programs.
Examples of Success
Here are two examples of how MEP has worked in action:
The exporter. One family-owned business in Wisconsin made standard products for metal fabricators and produced custom products, primarily for handrails. The organization exported some of its products and was able to increase export sales by connecting with the local MEP center and participating in three monthly training sessions, as well as coaching and assistance between the sessions.
Through this program, the exporter joined a group of noncompeting firms that worked together to create an exporting strategy to tap into new markets. The company was able to increase export sales 40% a year and expanded its reach from two to 16 countries.
The device maker. A North Carolina company designed and made high-performance radio frequency systems and solutions for applications that drive wireless and broadband communications. It enlisted the help of an MEP center to provide onsite training on Six Sigma and lean manufacturing principles. Participants were given real-world projects to continue working on after training was complete. The training helped management improve inventory controls and final product test efficiency, resulting in multi-million dollar cost savings.
Manufacturers face constant pressure to cut costs, improve quality, meet environmental and international standards, and “go to market” faster with new and improved products. At the same time, new opportunities are constantly beckoning.
As you try to keep pace with accelerating and emerging changes, consider taking advantage of the valuable resources MEP offers. If the MEP Improvement Act passes, the program’s role in the American manufacturing sector is likely to become even more critical.