The Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) has awarded a total of $3.75 million in Make it in America grants to 10 MEP centers in nine states.
And the Maine Manufacturing Extension Partnership was one of them.
According to Maine MEP center director Larry Robinson, the three-year, $375,000 grant – with equates to about $125,000 annually – will allow the organization to strengthen regional supply chains in the first year, then provide training and technical assistance in the second and third years to companies moving to the new advanced manufacturing accelerator at the former Brunswick naval air station.
“There are basic general manufacturing skill sets that are needed, everything from ISO certifications to OSHA right-to-know laws, to CADD/CAM education for high-precision manufacturing to regulation training for food production,” Robinson tells Leo Rommel of Industry Today in regards to the training aspect the grant will be used for. “It will be very situational, depending upon the individual company needs.”
The project was proposed as part of a single tripartite grant application known as the Midcoast Regional Innovation Initiative, developed with the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority (MRRA), Maine MEP, and the Coastal Counties Workforce, Inc. (CCWI).
The objective of the Make it in America Challenge, announced by U.S. President Barack Obama in March 2013, is to make it more attractive for businesses to build, continue, or expand their operations in the U.S. by reshoring operations and encouraging more foreign direct investment in U.S.-based manufacturing.
PART OF THE PLAN
The Midcoast Regional Innovation Initiative, according to officials, is a three-year integrated plan to expand manufacturing in the region in four targeted sectors, according to a Maine MEP statement:
- Composites/advanced materials;
- Renewable energy;
The grant-winning application was a two-prong approach, officials say. Funding provided to MRRA will be used to develop TechPlace, an advanced manufacturing accelerator, in the former Navy Building 250. That accelerator will supply workspace to firms in said targeted sectors and provide training that can help small and mid-sized manufacturers obtain the qualifications needed by international manufacturers and required for exporters to the EU.
Officials say these initiatives will open new markets, enabling state manufacturers to expand production.
The initiative, Maine MEP officials say, will cost $2.425 million. Funding will come from three federal agencies. The U.S. Economic Development Administration will provide $750,000 to MRRA for retrofitting TechPlace. CCWI, meanwhile, was awarded $1.3 million by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment Training Agency to support regional workforce training activities.
The MEP grant completes the award announcements, officials say.
A CONTINUED MISSION
The Maine MEP, according to Robinson, is a program that’s part of the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development. It’s also an affiliate of the National Institute of Standards and Technology under the U.S. Department of Commerce.
The national MEP is a network of manufacturing extension centers that provide business and technical assistance to smaller manufacturers in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.
In Maine, the Augusta-based program, which Robinson says has been around for 15 years, utilizes a mix of state and federal funding to leverage a vast array of public and private resources and services that are available to every manufacturing enterprise statewide.
It essentially helps manufacturers satisfy escalating customer expectations in an increasingly volatile and competitive global market while also maintaining satisfactory profit margins.
“We work primarily with small- and medium-sized manufacturers, and we have a team of well-qualified staff members certified in ISO, food processing, strategic planning, marketing, metals fabrication, wood products and innovation engineering,” he says. “We have project management teams that have those credentials to work with manufacturers. We strategically staffed ourselves with the skill sets needed for the most predominate industries in the state.”
He adds that the Maine MEP occasionally brings in third-party consultants to help with a few areas of manufacturing the organization does not deal with regularly or lacked necessary certifications in.
The organization generally defines small- to medium-sized manufacturers as companies fewer than 50 employees.
“One way to think about our organization is we provide that technical know-how to small- and medium-sized manufacturers through engineers, cost accountants, and the type of mid-level profession you would find in larger corporations,” Robinson says.
In essence, they work with smaller-sized industrialists in identifying conditions which may be impending their ability to become more efficient, competitive, and ultimately, profitable.
It does this through a variety of means and services, including:
- Enterprise improvement;
- Lean transformation, sustainment, and methodologies;
- Information technology;
- Supplier improvement;
- Quality management systems;
- Plant layouts and engineering;
- Energy audits;
- Organizational and leadership development;
- Strategic assessment and road mapping;
- Tax credits
- Ideas for growth
To paint a picture, he outlines the following hypothetical situation, one the Maine MEP has dealt with commonly in years past:
The organization gets a call from a relatively small manufacturer looking “to expand to the next level.” They’ll be hiring five to six new workers, Robinson says, and moving into a new, state-of-the-art, 10,000-square-foot facility. They want to make sure that facility is set up “in the most optimal way.” Come over and help with that, the manufacturer will ask.
“We do,” Robinson says. “That’s the niche we fill.”
Over the past year, Maine MEP clients have reported that they have created or retained 559 jobs that paid a total of $23.7 million in employee wages and benefits, according to the organization’s website.
“We support manufacturers in the challenging transition from being a small, startup company to a world-class manufacturer,” Robinson says.