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Senators Introduce Bill to Help American Manufacturers During Crisis

Bill would reinforce federal support for national network of Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) centers, which provide critical resources for small and medium manufacturers 

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.), Cory Gardner (R-Col.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), and Gary Peters (D-Mich.)  introduced the MEP Crisis Response Act of 2020, which would help Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) centers stay open during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.

MEP centers, which are funded through public-private cost-sharing, provide manufacturing companies with resources to promote growth, expand capacity, and adapt to change. This is especially critical today in the context of medical supplies and pharmaceutical products, where American manufacturers face wildly fluctuating demand and insufficiently robust supply chains. As manufacturers cut costs during the COVID-19 crisis, MEP centers will lose both service fees and access to already-appropriated public matching funds. Many will be forced to close when the American economy needs their services most.

“This is an efficient, targeted investment that should be part of any large-scale economic crisis response.  Failing to leverage MEP centers in this emergency would be an enormous missed opportunity,” said Senator Coons. “No one in the country has more boots-on-the-ground expertise than MEP employees when it comes to connecting small- and medium-sized manufacturers with the resources they need. Sending them home when they’re needed most would amount to economic malpractice.”

“The Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) program is an important resource for manufacturers throughout Colorado and across the country,” said Senator Gardner. “Colorado’s MEP, Manufacturer’s Edge, has built up dozens of relationships and provided critical insight for manufacturers over the years. All four corners of Colorado will benefit from their continued success and the relief contained in this bill will help strengthen our manufacturing base.”

“Manufacturing Extension Partnerships provide critical support for small and medium manufacturers. Investing in these MEP centers must be a central part of our efforts to backstop the economy, particularly at a time when we need to boost domestic manufacturing capabilities in critical areas like medical supplies,” Senator Kaine said.

“The coronavirus public health emergency is severely impacting businesses, which is why we need to ensure we are supporting Manufacturing Extension Partnerships to carry on their efforts to provide assistance to our local manufacturers. MEPs play an important role for American small- and medium- sized manufacturers, empowering them with the resources they need to produce innovative, cutting-edge products that drive our economy,” said Senator Shaheen, the lead Democrat of the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, which provides funding for MEPs. “This legislation would help ensure MEPs are able to continue operating during this crisis and support the recovery effort. I’ll continue to fight to ensure businesses in New Hampshire and across the country have the tools they need to stay afloat as we confront this crisis together.”

“As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt our economy, it is absolutely essential that our small and medium-sized manufacturers are able to continue producing essential products like medical equipment and protective gear,” Senator Hassan said. “Waiving the cost sharing requirement and ensuring available capital for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership state centers will help ensure that manufacturers in New Hampshire and across the country can continue to receive valuable advice and support from industry experts to help their business thrive and to assist in recovery efforts.”

“Now more than ever, we need to expand services at MEPs like the Michigan Manufacturing and Technology Center to provide support for Michigan’s workers and our manufacturing sector,” said Senator Peters. “I’ve seen firsthand how MEPs help small and medium-sized manufacturers innovate and take their businesses to the next level. I’m proud to join this bipartisan effort to bolster these services for our manufacturers—and hopeful that we can get this passed quickly.”

The MEP Crisis Response Act exempts MEP centers from federal cost-sharing requirements for one year, allowing them to use their appropriated funding without charging clients for services they need but cannot afford. It also commits $146 million in additional public funds to make up for lost private funding and to give MEP centers the resources they need to fully engage with the recovery effort.

MEP centers are uniquely equipped to act as front-line resources for manufacturers facing supply chain, workforce, and revenue challenges during the current crisis and its aftermath. As Congress considers large public investments to reinforce the imperiled American economy, it risks overlooking existing resources like the MEP network.

“Our nation's manufacturing supply chains are being strained in ways never before witnessed,” said Dave Boulay, board chair of the American Small Manufacturers Coalition and president of the Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Center. “It is vital we simply get to work on the critical topics that small and mid-sized manufacturers need to rebound quickly and to prepare for a new normal. The MEP Crisis Response Act will ensure the MEP nationwide network works effectively to strengthen the companies and our supply chain.” 

Buckley Brinkman, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Center for Manufacturing and Productivity, said: “Increased funding and the suspension of cost-share requirements will enable the MEP National Network to quickly respond to manufacturers’ needs in these critical times – especially as we surge capacity to produce vital medical supplies.”

“MEP is ready and perfectly positioned to help manufacturers overcome natural disaster challenges such as COVID-19, hurricanes, [and] earthquakes,”  said Migdalia Rosado, Executive Director of the MEP Center in Puerto Rico “Our knowledge of supply chain, business continuity/resiliency, process improvement, and [workforce] development are weapons required to help and support the recovery process.”

"This need is IMMEDIATE,” said Dusty Cruise, CEO of Missouri Enterprise. “As more and more companies [cancel contracts during this crisis], our Center will not be able to match the required federal cost share very long. It is imperative that cost share be waived so we will be able to continue business to help the manufacturers get back to normal when this pandemic passes.” 

“This bill is very important to the MEP National Network and to our nation’s small and medium-sized manufacturers,” said Mike Coast, President of the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center. “In Michigan, this one-time waiver of the cost share will allow our center to continue to work with SMMs to address issues to strengthen the supply chain around critical areas like cybersecurity, supplier scouting, evaluation of domestic sourcing and implementing advanced technologies around Industry 4.0.”

“Manufacturing, including Life Sciences, is ‘mission-critical’ to our ability to sustain and recover from the crisis that is being brought to us all [...] COVID-19,” said John W. Kennedy, Ph.D., Chief Executive Officer of the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program, Inc. “The MEP National Network and the 300,000 Manufacturers in the USA stand ready to help lead us to recovery, but additional support will be required. The proposed bill [...] is a solid first step that will pay significant benefits for our country.” 

Tiffany Stovall, CEO of Kansas Manufacturing Solutions, said: “Cost share relief and increased funding to the MEP program allows MEP Centers to continue to focus intently on building programming, and providing much needed hands-on relief services and guidance to manufacturers during the time they need us the most without worrying how we keep our centers operating.”

“This bill is critical to the business continuity of not only MEP Centers, but most importantly to U.S. manufacturers,” said Bill Donohue, President and Executive Director of GENEDGE Alliance. “The increase in funding will allow us to address the issue collectively as the MEP National Network. The bill enables Centers to continue to provide support [...] throughout the course of the COVID-19 outbreak, which has highlighted obstacles for U.S. manufacturing, its supply chains, and beyond.”