The MEP’s economic impact has been impressive, Mr. Stieren said. In 2009, its programs helped generate $9.1 billion in new and retained sales and $1.7 billion in new investment by clients. They also led to $1.4 billion in cost savings and created or helped retain nearly 53,000 jobs. He said these data were obtained through an independent, third-party survey of more than 7,000 companies that completed projects in 2008. “This is just a snapshot of the types of impacts we have across this program,” he said. These results were achieved with $330 million in state and federal funding and fees charged to clients in industry. “These are pretty impressive impact numbers for that kind of investment,” he said.
For the U.S. battery industry, the MEP conducted around 120 projects with companies around the country between 2005 and 2009, Mr. Stieren said. The projects involved 47 different companies in 26 states. Roughly one-third of those companies had 50 employees or fewer. About half had more than 100 employees, meaning they are “pretty established in manufacturing,” he said. “This is pretty indicative of the type of clients were serve in the MEP,” he said.
The challenges addressed by MEP programs “were across the board,” he said. They include Six Sigma quality, marketing, road-mapping, lean manufacturing, energy efficiency, export market access, supply-chain management, and product development, he said. These battery projects are credited with helping generate $69 million in sales, $35 million in cost savings, $32 million in investment, and 1,041 new or retained jobs. In 2009 alone, the MEP worked with 12 different battery projects credited with generating $8.6 million in sales.
A new MEP strategy for aiding manufacturers has implications for the battery industry. In its first 20 years or so, “MEP was very focused on product efficiencies and continuous improvement of helping U.S. manufacturing companies compete,” he said. “MEP now also is very focused on growth.”
The MEP commissioned a survey asking client companies what they saw as their three most strategic challenges over the coming three years. The survey found that “continuous improvement” was seen as manufacturers’ biggest challenge, cited by more than 70 percent of respondents. Finding growth opportunities and product innovation also were cited heavily. The MEP tells companies “that if they interact with us they can continue to improve their bottom line and reach their goal of cutting costs by 20 percent,” Mr. Stieren said. “They also can look for opportunities to grow. It is not something set in stone. It is a target.”
The program’s five key focus areas still include continuous improvement, which Mr. Stieren described as “a given” because “you have to be lean, have quality in place, and address that on a continuous basis.” Other top priorities are technology acceleration, supplier development, sustainability, and workforce issues.
The MEP advises companies on how to turn their technologies into processes, products, and services needed to bridge the Valley of Death, Mr. Stieren explained. “Our approach is to make the connection between companies