This post was supposed to be an amplification of my last post about selling into the exploding Indian industrial market, but something has come up that’s so important it has to come first.
Jim turner, the interim director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, is trying to kill one of the most successful government programs ever developed to help small business: The Manufacturing Extension Partnership.
This is without doubt the stupidest domestic policy decision of the year (to date, at least), and one with potentially devastating effects in many states whose economies have already suffered too much as a result of foreign competition.
As I discussed in an earlier post on manufacturing productivity, the MEP is a collection of non-profit and university-affiliated organizations in all fifty states whose mission is to help small manufacturers (defined as companies with fewer than 500 employees) to be more successful. What does “more successful” mean? Here are some examples, drawn literally at random from a thick stack of success stories provided by the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center, a prominent member of the MEP network:
· a 53 percent increase in output per employee
· a reduction in scrap rates from 14 percent to 1 percent
· a 30 percent reduction in occupied space
· $400,000 in annual savings (through a kaizen process)
The MEP program works, and it works for everybody. MEPs benefit the owners of small businesses by providing an objective, outsider perspective on everything from factory floor operations to marketing, with an emphasis on productivity. By increasing output, cutting scrap rates, etc., these businesses remain a viable source of jobs. Both the businesses and the workers pay taxes, so even the government gets a piece of the action. What’s not to like?
In an interview with Tom Abate of the San Francisco Chronicle, Turner’s lame excuse for opposing such a successful program was that his agency’s mission is to fund high-tech projects, such as nanotechnology (as though manufacturing weren’t high-tech these days). Only someone who spends all his time behind a desk in Washington could see wisdom in replacing a program that helps solve an extremely urgent problem with one that supports untested, futuristic technology that is receiving plenty of investment dollars anyway.