The Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership
The Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), administered by NIST within the Department of Commerce, has sought for more than two decades to strengthen American manufacturing.
Mission. MEP’s mission is to “act as a strategic advisor to promote business growth and connect manufacturers to public and private resources essential for increased competitiveness and profitability.”
Program Scale. In 2012, the NIST Manufacturing Extension Partnership had a budget of $128 million. The total NIST-MEP headquarters staff numbers some 45 people who focus on setting strategy, evaluating the needs and demands of clients, helping facilitate the development of tools, and “gluing together the Centers into a network that can share best practices.” NIST funding is matched 1:2 by individual state Centers, using funding primarily from state governments and client fees. The nationwide network includes some 1,300 staff supported by over 2,300 third-party service providers, and the overall budget for the MEP system was about $300 million in 2012.a
Decentralized Structure. NIST-MEP works cooperatively with organizations that include non-profits, state government agencies, and universities to complete the MEP mission. In all, some 60 MEP Centers are located across the country, with Centers in every state. They vary widely in structure and operating strategy. Pennsylvania, for example, has seven Centers; many states have only a single MEP Center. California, which accounted for 13 percent of the nation’s manufacturing GDP in 2011, has two MEP Centers serving the state. The work of these Centers is further dispersed among some 300 field offices. The Centers rely heavily on local partners to design and deliver services that are tailored to the needs of the manufacturing clients.b
Evolving Focus. According to then MEP Director Roger Kilmer, “Part of our evolution was to change from offering a technology push, where we knew about which technologies work in a federal lab, to looking at what manufacturers really needed. It also meant learning to look at the entire manufacturing enterprise—not just the tech piece of it, but everything else: the financing, workforce development, marketing, and sales.” From an early focus on off-the-shelf manufacturing technologies, basic technical assistance, and plant layout, MEP evolved towards “lean production” in response to demand from companies. The program continues to adapt with a new emphasis on growth and on innovation, reflecting the need for firms to be more proactive in an increasingly competitive world economy.
aRoger Kilmer, “MEP’s Place in the Innovation Chain,” presentation at the November 14, 2011, National Academies Symposium.
bMEP centers are structured in various ways. “Most MEP centers are not-for-profit (501(c)(3) corporations affiliated with state governments or universities.” U.S. Government Accountability