Psssssst! Got a small manufacturing company, or are you starting one? Here's something you might not want your competition to know about. Ready? Here goes: There is a low-profile but high-octane national network of 393 manufacturing assistance centers -stocked to the gills with cutting edge expertise - whose sole purpose in life is to help small widget makers like yours become more tech-savvy, more efficient, more competitive and more profitable.
Better yet, you can tap this small army of experts for help in nearly every aspect of your manufacturing business, from improving plant layout, to getting your shop floor in shape, to restructuring your finances, upgrading your Web site, securing specialized software or you name it. There's a cost, albeit a small one - generally a fraction of what you'd pay privately for similar services (if you could even find them). shutter
Sound miraculous? For thousands of small manufacturers, it's been exactly that. The program is called the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), a federally-funded effort that helps small manufacturers achieve a combined $1.3 billion in cost savings and $6.3 billion in increased or retained sales every year. MEP centers are non-profit, university- or state-based groups. Individual locations have different names, such as the Texas Manufacturing Assistance Center, Enterprise Minnesota, or California Manufacturing Technology Consulting. But all centers are united under the national collective known as MEP.
MEP has been around since 1988 but saw its funding slashed under the Bush Administration. That's changed, with the Obama White House seeking to double MEP funding.
Hands on help
Manufacturing Extension Partnership centers provide fully customized, direct, roll-up-your-sleeves assistance that is reserved specifically for small manufacturing companies. Nearly 1,600 specialists in every state work daily with small companies in their plants and offices, providing a wide array of fundamental services to improve growth, productivity and efficiency. And since MEP leverages government funds through public/private partnerships, the program can tap into another 2,500 specialists in workforce development, technical applications and manufacturing processes.
Bottom line: No matter what your business manufactures, or how you manufacture it, MEP can probably help.
Halcyon Products, Inc., for example, is a small five-employee manufacturer in Chagrin Falls, OH that makes safety products for law enforcement, firefighters, sports industries and others. The company wanted to develop a new safety product for firefighters and sought help through an Ohio MEP that helped Halcyon win seed funding, provided engineering and design help, assisted with researching and selecting vendors, and more.
Starting in April 2009, the company was implementing an aggressive sales plan targeting all 1.2 million firefighters in the U.S., and was projecting sales would grow from $50,000 in 2008 to over $250,000 in 2009.
How to find help from MEP
MEP centers work from a variety of locations, including Small Business Development Centers, community technical colleges, major universities, trade associations, chambers of commerce, economic development corporations and state agencies among others.
To locate a center near you, just select your state on the MEP locator available at the MEP Web site homepage. You'll find contact details for all MEP centers in your state, including phone number, email and Web site.