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Big grant — big goal: Funding looks to bring back manufacturing jobs

MEP_MakeItAmerica_rgbThe state is looking to recoup manufacturing jobs, and got good news lately with the announcement of the landing of a nearly $2 million federal grant.

The U.S. Department of Labor awarded the grant to Mississippi State University and partners to fund projects to accelerate job creation and encourage reshoring of advanced manufacturing jobs that have moved overseas.

MSU’s $1,931,935 award is part of the “Make it in America Challenge” made possible through the U.S. Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration, the U.S. Labor Department’s Employment and Training Administration and the Delta Regional Authority. Additionally, Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology Manufacturing Extension Partnership plans to make awards in early fiscal year 2014.

In addition to reshoring advanced manufacturing jobs, the programs are also designed to recruit foreign concerns to produce goods here.

Led by the university’s Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems Extension Center in Canton, the multi-partner MSU proposal outlines a “Make it in Mississippi” program to become one of the leading answers to the economic development challenge.

David Shaw, MSU vice president for research and economic development, said the three-year effort will focus strongly on both returning jobs to the U.S. and keeping advanced manufacturing jobs in the state.

“The U.S. as a whole and Mississippi in some of our industry sectors have lost a number of jobs that have moved overseas. When considering the cost of transportation, the cost of logistics and the quality of the workforce, it’s very easy to justify bringing those jobs back to Mississippi and back to the U.S.,” Shaw said.

The leader of the program is the Franklin Furniture Institute housed at Mississipi State.

Clay Walden, CAVS Extension director and principal investigator of the grant, said the program consists of key stakeholders working in partnership to fulfill distinct yet complementary scopes of work. In addition to the state’s primary land grant university, program participants include selected community colleges, workforce investment boards, Innovate Mississippi and the Mississippi Development Authority.

“The strength of our proposal was the strength of our partnerships,” Walden said.

Specifically, Itawamba Community College, East Mississippi Community College, Holmes Community College, Mississippi Delta Community College, Three Rivers Planning and Development District, and South Delta Planning and Development District are playing critical workforce development roles.

This program will target the development of advanced manufacturing technicians in high demand by industry. James Williams, vice president of economic and community services at Itawamba Community College, said the program will expand a highly successful internship program and will accelerate the development of critical manufacturing skills across the region.

The Reshoring Initiative is the only non-Mississippi entity involved, Walden said. He said Harry Moser of the Reshoring Initiative is the nation’s leading expert on reshoring jobs to the U.S. and is an endorser and participant in MSU’s program.

“Part of MSU’s culture is collaboration,” Shaw said. “We do very well with our ability to pull a team together and work together effectively. In today’s world, problems are not one-dimensional issues that can be solved by one discipline. We reach out as far as we need to in order to have the kind of team that’s necessary to be successful.”

Walden said the program places substantial emphasis on creating sourcing opportunities for small and medium size manufacturing enterprises within regional supply chains including a “top down” and “bottom up” strategy. Innovate Mississippi will play an important role in helping to link these small manufacturers into the supply chains of larger manufacturers. Listening sessions will engage more than 100 advanced manufacturers to prioritize reshoring and other related supply chain opportunities. Manufacturing companies also will have opportunities to learn about doing business with original equipment manufacturers. National and regional best practices will be shared in three annual reshoring summits.

The program also will conduct more than 30 technical assistance projects to connect small and medium size manufacturing enterprises with competitive technologies not commonly available. Projects will be selected and prioritized based on their potential for economic growth, such as private and foreign investment and job creation and retention.

“This will increase competitiveness of the state’s advanced manufacturing enterprises, which in turn, makes these companies a more attractive sourcing solution,” Walden said.

Employment Training Administration funding will enable the community college partners to establish a six-week internship program with cooperating advanced manufacturers. Walden explained that this program will fund 276 internships with a targeted 85 percent placement rate.

MSU’s National Strategic Planning and Analysis Research Center, known as nSPARC, will also play a key role in the program in tracking not only positive economic impact, but also the career advancement of individuals who go through the advanced manufacturing internships under the guidance of community colleges.

Walden said about half of the program’s financing will be directed to developing Mississippi’s workforce capacity in high skill, high demand job areas.

MSU also will conduct a series of intensive certificate based workshops designed to develop lean, Six Sigma and management skills.

In addition to MSU, other entities receiving awards include the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority in Maine; The Curators of the University in Missouri, the N.E.O. Foundation and the Buckeye Hills-Hocking Valley Regional Development District in Ohio, the Mid-Willamette Valley Council of Governments in Pennsylvania, Clemson University in South Carolina, and The Innovate Washington Foundation in Washington state.



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