Services are delivered through MEP’s network of 60 centers, which are found in each state and have 1,600 staff. The MEP also operates 440 field applications, Mr. Stieren noted. The staff are “boots on the street interacting with manufacturers on a daily basis to provide business and technical assistance,” he said. Because client bases tend to differ, not all centers offer the same services, he explained. The MEP also contracts with 2,300 service providers. “If a center doesn’t have the capability for a specific need, they can go into our network to look for the capability or contract with third-party service providers,” he said.
Most companies that manufacture products in the U.S. are within a two-hour drive of either an MEP center or assistance service location, Mr. Stieren said. “We really have a fantastic reach to the nation’s manufacturing base,” he said. Each year, the MEP interacts with some 31,000 companies. “That is a high number and a good number, but there are plenty of opportunities for us,” he said. Currently, the program works with less than 10 percent of America’s 340,000 manufacturers. “We’re always looking to increase those numbers,” he said.
Partnerships are the real strength of MEP programs, Mr. Stieren emphasized. “One of the things our network is really good at is helping companies get access to resources and capabilities they may not know about or have the wherewithal to gain on their own,” he said. MEP advisors work to connect companies to state and federal resources.
MEP advisors also help companies gain access to needed technologies, Mr. Stieren said. The MEP can connect them to technology at national, universities, and even private labs, he said. It also works with the Labor Department and other partners on workforce-training issues.
The MEP has many kinds of partnerships. At the federal level, the MEP works with agencies such as the Energy, Defense, and Labor departments, the Small Business Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency, Mr. Stieren explained.
Each MEP center also partners with state agencies. “Our centers operate as not-for-profits and in some cases as components of state agencies or university affiliates,” he explained. The MEP’s approach to partnership “depends on the specific state and the specific need we are trying to address,” he said. Each of the MEP’s 60 centers have cooperative agreements, with states providing matching funds. The MEP also works with many state science and technology institutes, Mr. Stieren added.
The program looks across a state to understand all of the technology-based economic activity. It also frequently partners with state economic development organizations “so that we can better align what our centers are doing and the services we are offering across our system on a national basis with the needs and interests of specific states,” he said.
There also are partnerships with trade associations. “This is a good way for us to get a feel on a broad basis for where industry sectors are going so that we can direct the focus of our centers and services,” Mr. Stieren said.