GaMEP Positively Impacts Georgia’s Manufacturing Sector

Lucy Adams

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

U.S. manufacturing is experiencing a renaissance, and the Georgia Manufacturing Extension Program (GaMEP) is ensuring that Georgia’s manufacturing industry resurges with the nation’s. “When Georgia Tech’s Industrial Extension started in the 1960s, it helped communities with infrastructure growth to support manufacturing,” says Karen Fite, Director of GaMEP located on the Georgia Tech campus in Atlanta. The 70s, 80s and 90s brought efforts to help manufacturers adopt and acquire certification in Quality Management Systems. Since the late 90s, MEP has added Lean Manufacturing as a focus point, in addition to ISO certification programs centered on environmentally responsible manufacturing and energy management standards.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Hollings Manufacturing Extension Program (MEP) is aiding the rebound of the American manufacturing industry. MEP, a program of the U.S. Department of Commerce comprised of a nationwide network of technical experts in every state, advances the creation and retention of jobs, increased profits and efficient production by small and mid-sized manufacturers.  Each state’s MEP office provides local manufacturers access to services that include innovation strategies, process improvements efforts and sustainability solutions, including energy conservation. MEP cooperates with partners at the state and federal levels to develop programs that position manufacturers to identify new customers, expand into new markets and create new products.

GaMEP is recognized nationally and internationally for their strong expertise in Energy management and works with the U.S. Department of Energy as one of the national certification bodies for ISO 50001, an energy management strategy.  While there are national and international implications, our main interest is in supporting local manufacturers. Fite says, “Georgia is our primary market.”

Georgia is home to 9500 manufacturers employing 355,000 people. Manufacturing in Georgia is a $50 billion industry, accounting for 12 percent of the state’s GNP. Georgia is the 11th largest exporting state, and 84 percent of Georgia’s exports are generated in the manufacturing sector, which boasts wages two times higher than the retail industry and a multiplier effect 3.5 times higher than other industries.

In 2013, GaMEP served 975 Georgia manufacturers, resulting in a total operating costs reduction of $28 million plus $217 million in new or retained sales. GaMEP also helped its clients create or retain 1557 jobs. The functions of GaMEP are financed by state and federal funding as well as client fees. The returns for taxpayers are as significant as the returns for manufacturers. At the national level, MEP generates an estimated $19 in new sales growth and $21 in new client investment for every one dollar of federal investment. Those numbers multiply to equal approximately $2.2 billion in new sales annually. Federal spending of just $1,978 through MEP creates or retains one manufacturing job.

GaMEP’s biennial Manufacturing Survey pinpoints trends in the state’s manufacturing sector, as well as areas of need, growth and effectiveness. Using the collected data, GaMEP develops services and programs to continue the expansion of manufacturing in Georgia. “Based on the last two surveys, we saw differences in how companies adopted innovation. We have a group called Growth Services to help companies manage their innovation process,” Fite says. The idea is to aid companies in proactive innovation by increasing their understanding of their customer.

The 2014 survey reveals that manufacturers’ greatest need lies in marketing and sales. GaMEP’s Smart Marketing program uses databases to help small manufacturers target new customer bases.  When the 2012 survey indicated spending on research and development below the national average, GaMEP reinvigorated assistance in that sphere because companies that compete on innovation report higher profit margins and wages than companies that compete on price.

According to survey results, Lean Manufacturing continues to be of high interest. Fite says, “We’ve created nine consortiums throughout the state so that non-competing representatives from different manufacturing industries can learn from each other.” Process Improvement, a component of Lean Manufacturing, is GaMEP’s most requested service. Fite explains, “It’s important in good times and bad. When in decline, they look at how to control costs and get the product out the door faster. In good times, it helps increase the capacity of the plant.”

Because MEP is a nationwide network of providers, GaMEP’s resources are vast. If a local manufacturer has facilities in other states, MEP agencies in those states can work in concert with GaMEP to achieve the company’s goals. GaMEP staff members have backgrounds in manufacturing and are located in the state’s nine regions, making them easily accessible. Beyond that, GaMEP incorporates input from Georgia Tech faculty and seeks out research bodies that may have technology advancements adoptable in real time.

Manufacturing Growth Network quarterly meetings, open to all manufacturers, whether GaMEP clients or not, deliver content on which companies can take action immediately. Open enrollment classes on the Georgia Tech campus are additional opportunities for leaders in manufacturing to garner more information and knowledge.

Sustained change is at the core of every project GaMEP leads. Fite states, “If we help a company increase capacity, we then can help them increase their markets and grow into new areas.” In this model everyone – the company, the taxpayer, the employees, the customer – wins.