The Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology today announced 18 awards for new manufacturing extension programs as part of its Manufacturing Extension Partnership. Working together, the private sector and government have created this nationwide network dedicated to helping smaller manufacturers improve their competitiveness through the adoption of modern technologies and business practices.
"The Manufacturing Extension Partnership is helping small and medium-sized manufacturers—a critical sector in the U.S. economy—grow and prosper and create and preserve jobs for American workers," said Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown.
"With the addition of these new programs to the MEP, we're well on our way to a truly national network that will give smaller manufacturers in every state access to a wealth of tools, techniques, information and other resources," he said. With today's announcement, 42 states, plus Puerto Rico, now have 60 centers affiliated with the MEP. The partnership began in 1989 with extension programs in three states. New to the MEP network are Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont and Puerto Rico. Six of the 18 awards will provide coverage in new regions of states already affiliated with the MEP.
NIST received 44 proposals for new or expanded manufacturing extension programs with a total first year funding request of $46.5 million. The 18 selected for awards were evaluated based on the proposing organization's knowledge of the numbers, types and needs of smaller firms in the proposed service region; technology and business resources; technology delivery mechanisms; and an effective management and financial plan.
Funding to support the MEP network initially is shared by the federal, state and local partners. In all cases, federal support is matched by state or local funding, fees for services and industry contributions. The total amount of federal funds requested to support these 18 MEP-affiliated programs for their first year is $21.2 million. Cost-shared funding by state organizations and others is $23.3 million. The awards announced today are contingent on negotiations of formal agreements between NIST and the proposing organizations.
Each center in the MEP network is a partnership, typically involving federal, state and local governments; industry; educational institutions; and other sources of expertise, information and funding support. Centers are non-profit organizations and are not federal government offices.
MEP centers are designed to help link sources of improved manufacturing technology and modern business practices with the small and mid-sized companies needing assistance. While each center tailors its services to meet the needs dictated by its location and manufacturing client base, some common services are offered by most extension centers. Broadly, these include helping manufacturers assess their current technology and business needs, define avenues for change and implement improvements. Working with other organizations, many centers also assist companies with quality management, workforce training, workplace organization, business systems, marketing or financial issues.
Surveys of MEP's client firms indicate that MEP's network of manufacturing extension services is fostering significant improvements in manufacturing and business performance, yielding company-estimated benefits that greatly exceed the federal investment in MEP. For example, average benefits per company anticipated by the 610 companies responding to the surveys include 5.6 jobs added or saved, $43,000 savings in labor and material costs, and an increase of almost $370,000 in sales. In addition, a recent study by the U.S. General Accounting Office reported that the assistance smaller manufacturers had received from manufacturing extension programs, including NIST's MEP, had positively affected their use of technology, the quality of their product, the productivity of their workers, their customers' satisfaction, their profits and their ability to meet production schedules.
A non-regulatory agency of the Commerce Department's Technology Administration, NIST promotes U.S. economic growth by working with industry to develop and apply technology, measurements and standards. NIST was selected by Congress to develop and manage the MEP because of its expertise in manufacturing engineering, its reputation as an impartial third party and its long-standing tradition of productive partnerships forged with public and private organizations at the national, state and local levels.