initiative to expand energy partnerships with companies—an initiative that would be required set up its own new infrastructure. What consideration, he asked, was given to scaling up a selective number of SME resources instead of distributing resources across a variety of federal agencies?
Investments Aimed at the Innovation Gap
Dr. Kota agreed that there was not enough money to spread it widely, and he added that the importance of a program lies not in how much it spends, but in how strategically it allocates its resources. The investments he had mentioned, which were recommended by the PCAST report, were aimed at the “missing middle,” the innovation gap. The DoE’s objective would be to develop strategies for moving ideas into commercialization. “One of the things DoE will do is set up public/private partnerships to develop the manufacturing technologies and shared infrastructure for nanotechnology and other advanced manufacturing. That’s a different focus than the MEP, which enhances the competitiveness of existing companies.”
Dr. Wessner said that a perceived advantage of MEP is its distributed nature and engagement with local and regional firms. He asked whether there would also be advantages if MEP were adapted to help manufacturing with “heavy, direct investment” or with incentives to strengthen manufacturing clusters. He noted that one barrier to collaboration among separate agencies is that “everyone wants to act separately so they can control how their funds are spent.”
The MEP’s Unique Role in Adding Value
Dr. Kota suggested that the MEPs play a unique role, “and they’re the only ones that can play that role, and they do it very well.” Other agencies have other roles in helping the translation of technology, he said, and were focusing on the clusters and the public- private partnerships that develop the technologies. “Once you have a technology, the MEPs play an important role in terms of business and technical assistance. The MEPS do even more in adding to the value chain, simulation, prototyping, and thinking about scaling. We already have MEPs, and they can help us.”
Dr. Wessner asked what level of funding would be needed to fully fund a robust advanced manufacturing sector, and whether the United States should build some version of the Fraunhofer Institutes. Dr. Kota said that PCAST had suggested investing $400 million per year in advanced manufacturing. He also said that the United States could build its own public-private partnerships, deciding which if any elements of the Fraunhofer model might be helpful here.