In an earlier open letter to you, I urged you to consider the importance to the national economy of American manufacturing. Firstly, I argued that U.S. manufacturers can successfully compete with manufacturers from low-wage countries in any sector. It’s not easy, but it can be done, and there’s proof. Secondly, I said that small and mid-sized manufacturers are the key to employment growth in the manufacturing sector, and the ones that deserve the lion’s share of any government support programs. They create 60 to 75 percent of the new jobs in the U.S. economy, depending on the year. And, in contrast to the multinationals, the jobs they create tend to stay in the U.S.
It’s clear that small manufacturers are the ones we should help. The question is, How? And no government organization knows the answers better than the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), which is part of the National Institute of Standards and Measurement (NIST).
As many of my regular readers already know, the MEP is a collection of autonomous consulting organizations. There’s at least one in every state, and they’re often connected with universities. But please don’t draw the conclusion that these are ivory tower organizations with no connection to real-world problems. Just the opposite is true. These are extremely practical people who know how to get results.
In 2006, the most recent year for which statistics are available, companies that sought help from the MEP had some amazing results. They increased or retained sales to the tune of $6.76 billion. They invested $1.65 billion in modernization. And, most importantly from the human perspective, they either created or retained 52,585 jobs.
For all that success, there are plenty of small companies throughout the U.S. that are in trouble, and the trouble goes beyond inability to obtain credit. Many small businesses that were built to flourish (and did flourish) in an economy that no longer exists: an economy that was regional or national at best, and not global; an economy where large companies like Ford, General Motors and Chrysler and many others could be depended upon to provide a lifetime of demand for subcomponents; an economy where change – that loaded word – was not required for success.
Of course, those times are gone. Many small business owners realize their days are numbered if they don’t change… but they’re not sure how to change. The prospect, for example, of selling in foreign markets is a little frightening to people who have never done it before. And selling overseas is just one example of the kinds of changes small companies are going to have to make.
The MEP can tell them how to do it, connect them with other government agencies that can help, link them up with other companies that have similar objectives and, as has been demonstrated year after year, deliver tangible results.
In your campaign, sir, you promised to double the MEP budget. It’s a promise you should keep.