In March, I was part of a delegation of several hundred business leaders who met in Washington, D.C. to talk manufacturing with members of Congress. We were there to advocate for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), a national network of non-profit organizations that leverages support from the federal and state governments to help manufacturers become more productive and globally competitive. I was joined by an executive from one of IMEC’s smaller manufacturing clients, a company we have worked with on several continuous improvement projects. Our principal purpose was to ask Congress to fully fund MEP in the FY ’09 federal budget.
Our discussions were refreshing because, over the years, Illinois’ legislators have truly come to understand critical manufacturing issues. Congressman Ray LaHood, in particular, has long been a supporter of MEP. With Caterpillar’s powerful presence in his district, Congressman LaHood doesn’t need to be convinced that manufacturing is a key economic driver. But he also knows that smaller manufacturers, many of them suppliers to Caterpillar, contribute to wealth creation in the region. And he’s also aware that these companies face tremendous challenges.
Globalization has created a fiercely competitive environment for domestic manufacturers. Smaller companies are especially challenged by demands for quality, cost and delivery. Smaller firms that do not keep pace with today’s standards of productivity and cost containment are at risk of losing business.
MEP works with companies willing to invest in their future and make improvements in the short term, positioning them to be stronger long-term competitors both domestically and internationally. Last year, MEP centers completed engagements with more than 28,000 manufacturers, assistance that resulted in $1.3 billion in cost savings annually and $6.25 billion in increased or retained sales.
It is important to note that the federal funds are not used by MEP centers to subsidize the actual work performed for manufacturers. The companies we work with pay for our services. The government funds enable us to hire and train expert staff, develop capabilities and reach out to the manufacturing sector. The simple fact is that many companies do not have the time or internal resources to devote to continuous improvement and growth. IMEC works with these companies to make changes and improvements that would be challenging to make on their own.
Our meetings had an impact. On March 19th, a letter signed by 190 members of the U.S. House of Representatives was sent to the House Appropriations Committee requesting full funding for the MEP program in fiscal year 2009. The letter was sponsored by the House Manufacturing Task Force and revealed a bipartisan endorsement for MEP.
“On behalf of the MEP system nationwide, we are greatly appreciative of the ongoing Congressional support for our efforts,” said Bob Weinstein, president of IMEC. “It is our belief that with the help of our senators and representatives, we will be able to restore and grow funding of this important program that continues to serve manufacturers nationwide.”
For more on MEP, visit mep.nist.gov. IBI