Proposed budget cuts threaten Manufacturing Extension Partnership

MEP provides expert help — within 3 hours — with everything from supply chains to cybersecurity. If cut, more than 9,000 Wisconsin manufacturers lose out

Posted on Jul 14, 2017 :: Insight From
Buckley Brinkman
Posted by , Insight on Manufacturing Staff Writer

I see a tremendous surge in manufacturing interest as I travel across the country. People realize that economies create real value by digging, growing and making stuff. Manufacturing — and the cool things created — stirs most people’s hearts. We understand it is a critical portion of the country’s strength and stand in amazement when we have the opportunity to see these operations
in action.

That’s especially true in Wisconsin. Our state consistently ranks first or second in the percentage of the workforce engaged in manufacturing. In fact, Northeast Wisconsin contains the areas with the highest manufacturing activity in the United States. Of course, it was also a high-visibility issue in the presidential election.

Manufacturing often conjures visions of big companies producing out of gigantic plants. In reality, small and medium-sized manufacturers (SMMs) make up more than 98 percent of the manufacturers in the country — and the number is even higher in Wisconsin. In Northeast Wisconsin, you or one of your friends probably work in manufacturing or a connected business. Manufacturing is made up of smaller, entrepreneurial operations — staffed with terrific people — focused on making lives better.

The Manufacturing Extension Partnership supports these operations nationwide. With the MEP System, no manufacturer in the country is more than three hours away from expert help. The MEP focuses on creating impact for SMMs and is a terrific resource for companies trying to grow and remain competitive in the world’s markets. The MEP provides programs and approaches that are normally only available to big companies. In Wisconsin alone, the program created more than $4 billion in impact for manufacturers throughout the state.

The Wisconsin MEP System pulls together two unique resources to serve manufacturers. The University of Wisconsin-Stout Manufacturing Outreach Center uses a unique process to harness the UW System’s research capabilities in a practical way to help SMMs. The Wisconsin MEP creates straightforward ways for SMMs to address issues like supply chains, sustainability and exporting. Both groups use their deep experience to help manufacturers compete and grow.

The MEP is a great investment and terrific steward of public funds. A recent study by the W.E. Upjohn Institute showed that the nationwide MEP system generates $9 of economic impact for every dollar invested in the program. The Wisconsin MEP System performs even better, with an ROI of 12-to-1 over a two-decade history. Very few government-sponsored programs provide these returns. In the MEP, these returns dominate the thinking and drive actions which improve manufacturers and manufacturing
even more.

The MEP approach to cybersecurity concerns demonstrates these actions. Recent cyberattacks show the vulnerability connected systems create and the damage these attacks can cause. Studies show that 60 percent of smaller companies do not survive a year after a cyberattack. In addition, the Department of Defense is requiring all its suppliers to come into compliance with the NIST Cybersecurity Framework by Dec. 31. In the face of these issues, the MEP System is pulling together a practical response for SMMs that provides a clear and effective way to assess cyber risks, creates a mitigation plan and executes that plan with qualified resources. This new approach will be available this fall and will enable SMMs to improve their cybersecurity effectively, efficiently
and economically.

The MEP System routinely develops these programs to help
SMMs understand how critical issues and trends affect them and how they can take advantage of the situations they create. This is especially important in this era of fast, exponential change. SMMs need a strong ally in order to play their role in building a robust economy.

President Trump should also embrace this alliance as he continues to emphasize manufacturing. He schedules frequent factory tours, his recent Wisconsin visit focused on manufacturing skills, and he welcomes manufacturing delegations to the White House — including Wisconsin manufacturers. Manufacturing plays a key role in the president’s talking points about a stronger U.S. economy.

Unfortunately, Trump’s budget eliminates the MEP program. Eliminating the MEP would leave more than 9,000 Wisconsin manufacturers without hands-on support. This support expands exports, aligns supply chains, improves access to the state’s best-applied research and improves everyday manufacturing operations. The State of Wisconsin would lose a key partner that connects initiatives throughout the state and pulls expertise — and funding — from the MEP Network and brings it to Wisconsin manufacturers. All of this goes away unless the budget changes. If it does not change, our state — especially Northeast Wisconsin — will be the losers.

It’s a terrific time to be a manufacturer in Wisconsin. We understand how to make the things the world wants. Our manufacturing ecosystem rivals anyone’s — and we know how to collaborate to achieve even more. The MEP is a critical part of that picture.

Let’s make sure we keep our manufacturing momentum going!

Buckley Brinkman is the executive director and CEO of the Wisconsin Center for Manufacturing & Productivity. Brinkman has more than 25 years of manufacturing leadership, with a breadth of experience in helping companies drive growth, world-class competitiveness and performance excellence.