REAL HELP FOR SMALL U.S. MANUFACTURERS, RIGHT NOW, FROM UNUSUAL SOURCES
Washington, DC - Commenting on a report released by the Office of Technology Policy (OTP), Technology Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce, Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Chair of the Senate’s Small Business Committee, recognized the influence of a little-known private non-profit consulting group headquartered in Augusta, Maine.
MEP Management Services, Inc. (MEP MSI) has been instrumental in leveraging best practices from the federal laboratory system in order to help small-medium manufacturing enterprises (SMEs) adopt new technologies, engage in innovation of their own, and maintain or improve their competitive positions in the global marketplace, according the just-released OTP study.
“In the current global economy, U.S. manufacturers face a tremendous challenge to be competitive in high-volume production industries.” Senator Snowe observed. “But our small manufacturers can still capitalize on their ability to be agile and innovative; to be at the leading edge of technological evolution.”
The federal laboratory network of 714 facilities and over 100,000 scientists, engineers and technicians is the largest research and development infrastructure ever devised. While much of its work is devoted to government or academic programs, it is also an enormous – if historically underutilized – resource to American industry. A study commissioned by OTP and conducted by Innovation Associates, Inc., of Reston, VA, was designed to document the extent to which the best practices of the federal lab system have contributed to private sector vitality. That study concluded that “that federal laboratories were pursuing a variety of activities that benefited the communities and states in which the laboratories were located, and at the same time, benefited the laboratories themselves,” and that “Intermediary organizations can play an important role in facilitating business-laboratory relations, linking geographically distant labs with enterprises, and leveraging resources that benefit enterprises working with labs.”
“It is very significant that MEP MSI was specifically identified as among the most important of these catalysts that help small manufacturers take advantage of federal resources which might not otherwise be readily accessible,” Senator Snowe added.
The report identified several such organizations, but stated particularly, that, among others, “MEP MSI [has] ‘embedded’ technical specialists in labs to identify and transfer technologies to local and distant enterprises. These specialists can add value through their dual understanding of federal laboratory and commercial perspectives and goals.”
Rod Rodrigue, President and CEO of MEP MSI had this to say: “U.S. manufacturers are faced with the most profound threat to their ability to survive, ever in our history. MEP MSI is committed to doing whatever we can to provide the manufacturing sector with the skills, knowledge and leverage to prosper, given the new global realities.” Quoting from Securing America’s Future: The Case for a Strong Manufacturing Base”, a 2003 report prepared for the Council of Manufacturing, Rodrigue added: “If the U.S. manufacturing base continues to shrink at its present rate and the critical mass is lost, the manufacturing innovation process will shift to other global centers. Once that happens, a decline in U.S. living standards in the future is virtually assured.”
“Innovation is the key to prosperity for U.S. manufacturers,” Rodrigue observed, “and the federal government can be a vital resource. But most small manufacturers are simply not aware of what is available to them, nor of how to take advantage of these assets.”
MEP MSI is an outgrowth of the Manufacturing Extension Partnership system, a national economic development program assisting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in manufacturing modernization and global competitiveness with advanced technologies and best business practices. MEP is sponsored by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), an agency of the Department of Commerce.
NIST affiliate MEP Centers are located in every state and operate as independent, non-profit corporations relying on federal and state funding and fees collected from SME clients. The largest consortium of multiple state MEP Centers is operated by MEP Management Services, Inc. (MEP MSI) in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Arizona, New Mexico and Florida. MEP MSI further collaborates with MEP Centers in some two-dozen states on national programs involving Lean Manufacturing and supply chain development. MEP MSI also supports a host of other federal SME programs sponsored by the Departments of Commerce, Defense, Energy and Labor as well as NASA, EPA, USAID, EPA, SBA, NSF and Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) initiative.
“MEP MSI operates the largest multi-state consortium of independent MEP Centers. Starting in Maine, MEP MSI quickly expanded services to other New England states, and now operates programs in six states: Arizona, Florida, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, and New Mexico. During this time, MEP MSI has further expanded through national supply chain development initiatives with major corporations and DOD in additional states.
MEP MSI’s core services focus on meeting the immediate “shop floor” needs of manufacturers with new solutions in productivity, process, and quality, and helping firms develop expanded supply chain opportunities. MEP MSI also has a long history of integrating technology solutions for SME product development and process modernization with an emphasis on federal laboratory partnerships. For example, Maine MEP’s first federal laboratory project involved helping a local supplier qualify new materials for L.L. Bean’s famous hunting boot through a CRADA with the Navy’s Clothing & Textile Research Facility. Today, MEP MSI provides technology transfer services in two broad areas: technology development and technology commercialization.”