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January 9, 2017 | last updated January 9, 2017 6:33 am
Biz Money

New law could help smaller manufacturers

Maine's smaller manufacturers expected to ring in the new year with a new manufacturing law that is expected to help Maine's Manufacturing Extension Partnership program have more predictable and stable financing, MEP Center Director Larry Robinson told Mainebiz.

President Obama was expected to sign the bill into law by early January, with strong bipartisan support from the U.S. House and Senate.

Until now, the federal government supplied $1 for each $2 MEP could match through its consulting activities with the state's small- to medium-sized businesses, defined in Maine as those with one to 50 employees. The new law, co-sponsored by U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, now only requires MEP to match $1 for each $1 in federal money.

"The law allows our center to maintain a more regular financial footing," Robinson said. "In some of the previous years we couldn't draw down the federal match because we didn't get enough of our own match money. So we lost the rest of the federal money for that year," he said.

The new Manufacturing Extension Partnership Improvement Act is part of the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act. It is aimed at improving the MEP programs in all states, including Maine, by offering them consulting resources to compete globally, help them integrate their supply chain and give them access to training and new technologies that could improve efficiency, productivity and profitability.

The nationwide MEP centers are linked through the U.S. Department of Commerce and National Institute of Standards and Technology to strengthen the global competitiveness of U.S. manufacturers.

Maine MEP averages a budget of $1 million per year between the federal and matching funds, Robinson said.

"This legislation will enhance Maine MEP's ability to provide critical resources to companies that will create jobs and spur economic activity," the senators said in a joint statement.

Robinson said there are about 1,600 manufacturers in Maine, and 80% have 50 employees or fewer. Of those, half are metal and machine shops or in food production, and the other half are evenly distributed among a number of producers, including biotechnology and wood.

Robinson said MEP provides technical services and workforce development with its six field staff. They work on about 15 projects per year, for which the smaller manufacturers pay for services. MEP is currently looking for an additional person with 20-plus years of operational experience in manufacturing for the Bangor area.

It's difficult to find staff, Robinson said, because many large companies that had those experienced engineers moved offshore in the 1990s.

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