This situation has prompted significant public response. State and local governments have created industrial assistance services, the federal government has multiple programs aimed at helping small businesses, and there is strong interest in the Clinton administration in creating a national network of industrial assistance centers (Clinton and Gore, 1993). Expanding the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Manufacturing Technology Centers (MTCs) program is one mechanism for creating such a national assistance network. Other possible mechanisms, described in the Advanced Research Project Agency's recent Technology Reinvestment Project (TRP) information package, include Advanced Technology Centers at community colleges, industry specific consortia, and expansion of state-based industrial extension services (U.S. Department of Defense, 1993). Although the specifics of a national industrial assistance system have yet to unfold, it is clear that significant resources—the budget for manufacturing extension programs in the TRP is about $180 million for fiscal year 1993—are being mobilized to create a national industrial assistance system.

Given this context—rapid changes in manufacturing, growth in the numbers of smaller manufacturers, and their apparent lag in modernization effort—NIST asked the Manufacturing Studies Board to form a committee to examine the barriers to manufacturing improvement in smaller firms and to identify the appropriate role of the MTCs in addressing those barriers. As part of its study efforts, the committee met with nearly one hundred small manufacturing owners/managers, as well as extension service field agents and managers from Manufacturing Technology Centers (MTCs), state extension programs, universities, and trade associations. In addition to discussing barriers facing smaller manufacturers, both company representatives and assistance providers discussed opportunities to help firms overcome these barriers and to improve significantly their production costs, quality, and market responsiveness.

The conclusions and recommendations of the committee are based on a review of relevant literature and the testimony of experts, practitioners, assistance agents, private sector service providers, and the many manufacturing owners and executives that participated in eight workshops held throughout the United States. The recommendations of the committee reflect the changed circumstances that have resulted from the emergence in early 1993 of substantial additional federal funding for industrial assistance activities, as well as President Clinton's proposals for the creation of a national network of manufacturing extension centers.

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