Our revised mission (and MEPs): Making money to give it to manufacturers

By Tom Bugnitz | Jun 09, 2015

With our new federal award to continue as the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partner starting July 1, it's a good time to talk in general about the strategies and goals of the MEP system in general and Manufacturer's Edge in particular.

First let's talk about money. Previously, the national MEP system funded Manufacturer's Edge up to $665,201 per year, subject to us matching that amount 2X, or $1,330,402. Said another way, the MEP system didn't give us money as a grant; they gave us $1 every time we came up with $2. Our challenge was to find those $2, and we did that by selling consulting and training services to manufacturers in Colorado. In some states, state funding is used for the match. In others, larger institutions house the MEP center, and provide the match directly.

Starting July 1, the yearly amount will increase to $1,655,389. People may wonder what we'll do with all of that money? That's the cap. We still need to come up with a match, but it is easier for the next three years. We only need to come up with $1 to get a matching $1 from MEP. So again, what are we going to do with all of that extra money?

The new MEP Strategic Plan will drive our approach. The stated mission of the MEP system nationwide is simple: enhance the productivity and technical performance of U.S. manufacturing. Our role, as defined by MEP, is to "facilitate and accelerate the transfer of manufacturing technology in partnership with industry, universities and educational institutions, state governments, and NIST and other federal research laboratories and agencies."

Gulp. That's a handful, and a mouthful, and something that sounds like a lot of fun, especially in Colorado with the wealth of labs and university resources at our disposal.

But operationally, we have to engage manufacturers on the ground, in Colorado. MEP has guidance there as well, in a set of four strategic goals:

  • Enhance the competitiveness of U.S. manufacturers, with particular focus on small and medium-sized companies.
  • Support national, state, and regional manufacturing ecosystems and partnerships.
  • Develop MEP's capabilities as a learning organization and high performance system.
  • Serve as a voice to and a voice for manufacturing and manufacturers in engaging policy makers, stakeholders, and clients.

Our MEP proposal for the next five years was built on those goals. We are not a training organization, or a consulting organization, or an educational organization. We're an MEP center focused on those goals, and we use our services to achieve those goals.

Our issue remains: How do we sell services that help us meet our dollar for dollar match, and still target those four strategic goals? It's about leverage. Because of the reduced match requirement, services that we sell to make our match will not only fund our operations, but also will fund new activities and services that we can provide to manufacturing in Colorado.

These are things as diverse as supporting regional manufacturing groups, to providing low-cost services to very small and/or very rural manufacturers in Colorado, to helping business incubators with manufacturing startups, to partnering with regional groups to fund local MEP activities throughout the state.

We've been given a resource to use for growing manufacturing in Colorado. We will be wise stewards of that resource, doing what we already do well, but expanding to meet the evolving needs of Colorado manufacturers, no matter how big or small or where they are located.

Tom Bugnitz is CEO of Manufacturer's Edge, a statewide manufacturing assistance center, partially funded by the NIST Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP).