About the Authors
Darrell Conner is a Government Affairs Counselor, Dennis Potter is a Government Affairs Advisor, and Sean McGlynn is a Government Affairs Analyst at the law and lobbying firm of K&L Gates, where they represent NATM and other clients on legislative, regulatory, policy and political matters. Conner can be reached at Darrell.Conner@klgates.com, Potter can be reached at Dennis.Potter@klgates.com, and McGlynn can be reached at Sean.McGlynn@klgates.com.
The MEP program was created by Congress in the mid-1980’s to ensure that American small manufacturers could access the technical assistance and expertise they need to grow their operations and remain competitive in the global economy. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) at the U.S. Department of Commerce oversees the MEP Centers, which are not-for-profit corporations that employ industry experts who work directly with manufacturers. The manufacturers, in turn, pay for the services they receive.
The obvious question for trailer manufacturers is: How can your state’s MEP Center help your business? The answer is that the MEP Center in your state can help with a broad range of services including technical assistance, product design and development, supply chain optimization, sales and marketing strategies, export facilitation and workforce training.
Recent surveys of NATM members and broader sections of the manufacturing industry have found that one of the key challenges facing the sector is the ability to locate and retain skilled workers such as welders. A shortage of skilled welders is but one example of a key element in the trailer manufacturing labor force that has been identified in recent years. The American Welding Society estimates by 2020 there will be a shortage of 290,000 workers in the profession. MEP Centers can work with manufacturers in their states to design programs to address challenges such as this.
Each year an independent third-party firm surveys the manufacturers who utilize the MEP Centers. According to the 2016 survey, 25,445 manufacturers worked with the MEP Centers, which resulted in $9.3 billion in new and retained sales, 86,602 new and retained jobs, $3.5 billion in new client investments, and $1.4 billion in cost savings.
In the fiscal year 2018 budget recently released by the White House, President Trump has proposed elimination of the MEP program. Congressional leaders are currently reviewing the proposed budget and a number of Members are working to ensure the program continues to receive funding to fulfill its goals. For manufacturers who have benefited or may benefit from the services provided by MEP Centers, this is an example of the importance of engagement in the political process. Members of Congress place great importance on growing businesses and the economy in their Congressional districts, and the views of their constituents are critical information for them to have as they work to accomplish this goal.
For manufacturers who are not familiar with the program but who face challenges with which the MEP Centers may be able to assist, a list of MEP Centers and contact information may be found at www.nist.gov/mep.