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Building Hawaii’s Innovation Economy: Summary of a Symposium
about one-third of the operating expenses of the centers, so the centers must be fully integrated with the states and partners in order to function. Revenue for the centers comes in the form of fees for services from manufacturing clients. The MEP interacts with about 34,000 manufacturing firms a year, reaching a “detailed and intensive level” with about 10,000 of them. The 1,400 or so MEP personnel are not federal employees, but are paid through cooperative agreements or grants.
Helping to Think Strategically
The MEP provides practical assistance to help manufacturers to address short-term needs, but it also emphasizes the strategic context of these needs. “Part of the problem we’re facing in this country is that we’re very short-term focused and reactionary. The MEP tries to promote strategic thinking among manufacturers, help them identify opportunities, and then help find the financial and expert resources needed.”
Mr. Kilmer said that the MEP focuses on its impact on clients in evaluating its performance. It evaluates the kinds of services offered to the centers, how well the centers perform, and whether the program gives the centers the right tools and services to help manufacturers. The program regards its work as an investment, so it tries to measure the bottom-line impact, both at the national and local levels. For FY2009, for example, clients reported some $3.5 billion in new sales as a result of MEP assistance, $4.9 billion in retained sales, $1.9 billion in capital investment, $1.3 billion in cost savings, and 72,000 jobs created and retained. These figures were derived from a third-party survey that contacts clients online or by telephone six to nine months after a project is completed.
The primary approach of the MEP is the use of partnerships and networking, at both a national level and the state and local levels. At the national level, Mr. Kilmer said, his job is to link the centers and share resources and solutions for the manufacturers. At the center level, the task is to find the right partners for a manufacturer. This might be a community college to meet training needs, a university to provide research, or the Small Business Association (SBA) to help arrange financing. National partners include federal agencies and trade associations, which are an essential conduit to the manufacturers.
Connections with Local Organizations
The organization as a whole, Mr. Kilmer said, is structured to reach far beyond its federal roots. The MEP has only about 45 federal government employees, most of them stationed in regional centers around the country. However, most of the work is done by third-party suppliers. “We really rely on local people,” he said, “because they are our connection with the manufacturing base. We work through a lot of organizations that existed before MEP and are the ones the local clients recognize. It’s a unique national asset among federal programs, because