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Manufacturing Extension Partnership tops in national survey

Every state in the country is represented by at least one Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), and each year an independent company surveys manufacturing companies who have received assistance from the MEPs to determine their impact on helping the company’s profitability.

In the latest survey, Mississippi MEP (www.MEP.ms) ranked number one in the country in the economic benefits reported by state industries as a result of the MEP assistance that provided increased sales, cost savings and investment impact. MEP.ms assistance had a $1.9-billion impact. Most of the impact, approximately $1.7 billion, came from sales growth.

“The successful work of the Manufacturing Extension Partnership of Mississippi has helped the state’s manufacturers generate more than $1.9 billion in bottom line impact in just the last year alone,” said Jay Moon, president and CEO of the Mississippi Manufacturers Association. “Over the past year, their work resulted in more than 1,400 jobs being created, retained or redeployed. I expect this success to continue and even accelerate. Such work is essential for Mississippi’s manufacturers to attain and maintain global competitiveness.”

The fiscal 2007 economic impact was based on 39 surveys completed by companies that received MEP.ms assistance. Jay Tice IV, director of MEP.ms, said MEP.ms provided assistance in the form of expertise in measures such as lean manufacturing, growth services, strategic business development, quality systems and supplier development to 288 manufacturers this past year.

“The survey was done by a third-party company, Synovate,” Tice said. “It puts us first in the nation so it isn’t a minor achievement. I’m proud of it.”

Tice said MEP.ms works with the companies to help them understand how the things they are doing can help their bottom line.

“Most of the people who run MEPs or work at MEPs are people like me with a lot of industrial experience,” said Tice, who has 20 years experience in industry. “We come to this non-profit environment from an industry background. We understand the need to focus on the bottom line.”

MEP.ms, which operates under the umbrella of the Mississippi Technology Alliance, is a non-profit organization that operates as a training and consulting company providing expertise and services tailored to the most critical needs of area manufacturers, which range from process improvements and worker training to business practices and applications of information technology.

MEPs started forming in the late 1980s after the American auto industry started to feel the strain of the increased competitiveness of the Japanese auto manufacturers.

“As a result, American manufacturing began to be really challenged,” Tice said. “So, Congress wanted to do something to help American manufacturing because, at the time, 25% to 30% of all jobs were in manufacturing.”

The program was patterned off the success of the agriculture Extension Service that has been in operation for more than a century. The idea was to do for manufacturing what the Extension Service had done for agriculture.

The MEP.ms provides training in lean manufacturing, the Kaizen approach and Six Sigma. The MEP.ms facilitates the Kaizen approach by working with an industry to identify the key things they want to accomplish.

“At the end of three days, it is finished,” Tice said. “We don’t just design, but implement it.”

One of the most important program offering is in lean manufacturing, which is designed to optimizing workplace processes.

“The thing about lean manufacturing is you strive to have a more agile employee,” Tice said. “Lean manufacturing emphases things like standardized work, doing the work in documented, repeated ways and also emphasizes cross training of employees. Another way we look at the lean journey is a focus on manufacturing at the pull of the customer. You only make things the customer has ordered. You don’t build large stacks of inventory. Lean focuses on value-added activities, only activities the customer will pay for. We try to look at their manufacturing process and identify value-added steps and try to eliminate non-value-added steps.”

There are nine MEP.ms centers in Mississippi. Three are located a university centers and six at community college centers.

“These centers can work with manufacturers covering the full gamut of needs they have,” Tice said. “The centers are located either at universities or community colleges, which gives us access to tremendous resources. Most MEPs don’t have both community college and university resources. So, we can address workforce development and workplace modernization. And those can have a huge impact, as you can see.”

Even after completing a program like lean manufacturing, MEP.ms sticks with companies.

“We’re in it for the long term with our companies in Mississippi,” Tice said. “We want them to succeed.”

One center has just been set up as a result of the Toyota plant going into the Tupelo area. The new Manufacturing Solutions Center includes a consortium of three community colleges — East Mississippi Community College, Itawamba Community College and Northeast Community College.

“That is a booming manufacturing area up there,” Tice said. “Toyota is going to have a huge impact in Northeast Mississippi that will spawn a lot of small manufacturers and ancillary businesses.”

MEP.ms has also been active on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in helping some industries that had catastrophic damage from Hurricane Katrina. In one case, MEP.ms used computer simulations at the Center for Advanced Vehicle Systems at Mississippi State University to help a Coast industry reconstitute their manufacturing process. The company said the simulation not only saved a great deal of time, but approximately $50 million.

“It was a real planning tool that saved them an incredible amount of money,” Tice said.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette4@cox.net.


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