Based on the committee's discussions with smaller manufacturers and with staff at the MTCs and other industrial assistance programs, a majority of the committee has concluded that a national industrial assistance system is justified. The barriers to manufacturing performance improvement in smaller firms and the opportunities to overcome those barriers, as described by manufacturers in the committee's workshops, define roles for public sector assistance programs. The committee majority's assessment of the current MTCs is that they are well-placed to address many of the barriers facing smaller manufacturers. In particular, they can create communication networks and facilitate much greater information sharing among companies, technology providers, educators, regulators, and other members of the manufacturing community.
The federal government, through the MTCs, is learning to help firms adjust to the rapid changes taking place in manufacturing. In many respects, the diversity of the MTCs has provided valuable insights into what needs to be done and how to do what is needed. The MTCs have also discovered that some features of the manner in which they are organized are obstacles to further progress. Despite these lessons, it is crucial to emphasize that there is no consolidated model at NIST or elsewhere of how to provide assistance to smaller firms most effectively. As initiatives unfold to create a national industrial assistance system, the need to remain flexible, to fund experiments, and to adapt accordingly must be a guiding principle.
Even if highly successful, it must also be recognized that industrial assistance is not a panacea. Improvements in technology and changes in firms' internal organization of work are elements in overcoming the challenges and barriers that block or impede the development of globally competitive manufacturing capabilities in smaller U.S. firms. Innovation within manufacturing must be understood as inextricably linked to macroeconomic initiatives, trade impediments, antitrust concerns, education and training, energy, regulatory actions, public infrastructure, cost and availability of capital, and a host of other external factors and policies.
With these caveats, but with the full recognition that initiatives to construct a national industrial assistance program are well under way, the committee majority offers the following recommendations to help guide