Lawmakers Aim to Help Small and Mid-Sized Manufacturers Weather the Coronavirus Crisis

By Monique Mansfield
Mar 26 2020 |
Getty Images

Bipartisan bill would help companies access the Manufacturing Extension Partnership.

Reps. Haley Stevens (D-Mich.) and Troy Balderson (R-Ohio) introduced a bill this week that would waive the cost for small and mid-sized manufacturers who want to access resources and services offered by the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP).

MEP is a national public-private partnership that provides manufacturers with help starting, sustaining and growing their business, including things like supply chain needs, workforce training, sustainability practices, and new product development. MEP centers are located throughout the country, and are relied upon to give guidance and assistance, particularly to small manufacturing businesses.

The new legislation, called the MEP Crisis Response Act, would double federal funding going into the partnership. Not only will this open services to small and mid-sized manufacturers over the next year – which is expected to be a tough one, given the economic fallout of the coronavirus crisis – it also will help ensure the centers themselves stay afloat, as many manufacturers will not be able to afford the service fees.

Companion legislation was introduced in the Senate by Sens. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.).

“Every industry is feeling the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, but the manufacturing community, in particular, is struggling to adjust to social distancing practices and overall economic uncertainty,” Stevens said. “In Michigan and across the country, the MEP National Network has a proven track record of helping manufacturers grow their business and create jobs. In this challenging environment, their resources and services are more important than ever.”

Balderson echoed Stevens.

“These partnerships greatly benefit small-operation manufacturers that don’t have the resources to troubleshoot large-scale problems,” he said. “We can’t let American manufacturing suffer because of a global pandemic, which is why temporarily suspending cost-sharing requirements is crucial to relieving the burden on these small businesses.”

MEP officials also are supportive of the legislation. Mike Coast, president of the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center, noted that the legislation will help “support and generate continued momentum that our manufacturers will need to survive.”

“In Michigan, this one-time waiver of the cost share will allow our center to continue to work with [manufacturers] 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.,” he continued. “These are essential services.”

In a press release, the Senators noted that MEP centers are “uniquely equipped” to provide direct support during the coronavirus crisis, and are especially critical for the medical sector, as manufacturers of personal protective equipment, pharmaceutical products, and ventilators are navigating incredible capacity and supply chain challenges.

“No one in the country has more boots-on-the-ground experience than MEP specialists when it comes to connecting small- and medium-sized manufacturers with the resources they need,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) “Failing to leverage their expertise in this emergency would be an enormous missed opportunity.”