In 1977, Steve Martin performed a routine on Saturday Night Live about being a millionaire. The first lines of the bit:
“You can be a millionaire...and never pay taxes! You can be a millionaire...and never pay taxes! You say.. ‘Steve.. how can I be a millionaire.. and never pay taxes?’ First… get a million dollars. Now…”
Aaaaah, so the trick is to first get a million dollars. Put that way it sounds simple. But few of us have that chance.
Right now in Colorado, we do have that chance. The U.S. Department of Commerce is giving Colorado, through the Manufacturing Extension Partnership system (the network which Manufacturer’s Edge is a part of), a way to bring another $1M into the State to support manufacturing programs. But there is a small catch. More on that in a minute.
A little background: Manufacturer’s Edge holds the cooperative agreement with U.S. Department of Commerce to be the State of Colorado MEP Center. We have been the holder of the cooperative agreement for over ten years, and it will be renewed with our continued satisfactory performance in 2015. That cooperative agreement provides up to $655,201 dollars of Federal funding as long as Manufacturer's Edge can provide twice that ($1,310,402) in matching funds. We do this by selling education and consulting services to manufacturers in Colorado.
Compared to other states, the amount of money that Department of Commerce provides to the Colorado MEP is low… low by about $1M, when considering the number of manufacturers and manufacturing employees in the State. That amount was set in the beginning days of the MEP system, and is part of the federal law authorizing funds for MEP. The Department of Commerce on its own can’t increase our funding…they literally need an act of Congress to do that. And Congress has acted.
Congress passed a law that provided for two things: 1) A way to change state funding to more closely align MEP funding to the needs of each state, based on number of manufacturers, etc.; 2) A “recompetition” of the entire MEP system.
Recompetition means, lets open up the cooperative agreement to anyone who thinks they can provide the service. As stated in H.R. 4186, the “Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science and Technology Act of 2014”:
RECOMPETITION. –If a recipient of a Center award has received financial assistance for 10 consecutive years, the Director shall conduct a new competition to select an operator for the Center consistent with the plan required in this Act. Incumbent Center operators in good standing shall be eligible to compete for the new award.
Check mark for us…we have been holding the cooperative agreement for 10 years. And we are in good standing. But it would take a while to do all of the MEP centers, a period of years.
From the MEP perspective, according to the MEP website:
“The goal is to complete re-competition of the entire 50 State (plus Puerto Rico) national network over three years. To ensure that this process can be implemented without disrupting the MEP system or degrading the program’s performance, MEP will initiate a demonstration program in 6-10 States in Summer 2014 (emphasis added)… The demonstration program will enable procedures, milestones, and resource requirements to be tested and refined.”
Colorado certainly qualified to be part of the “demonstration program”, because we were underfunded by MEP standards and had held the cooperative agreement for 10 years. So, we were allowed to volunteer to be part of the demonstration program.
Volunteer to go back into a competitive bidding situation. This is like your best customer, with a long term contract who is very happy with your product and service, saying they will pay you double or triple for your product. All you have to do is let them break the contract, agree to go head to head with your competitors, and then win the business all over again.
The key word is volunteer. We had the option to say no, and just wait a few years for our turn to come around.
We said yes. Actually, we said absolutely yes, totally yes, where do we sign up? The risk is that we lose the cooperative agreement and Manufacturer’s Edge goes away. The guarantee is that another $1,000,000 will come into Colorado for Colorado manufacturers. That is as close to a no-brainer as it gets. We will always opt for the extra million for our manufacturers in Colorado.
So in the coming week or so there will be an announcement from the Department Commerce opening up the MEP cooperative agreement to anyone who wants to bid on it. Manufacturer's Edge will, of course, be one of those organizations. We intend to win that cooperative agreement back and become a larger and stronger force for Colorado manufacturing.
To do this, we will be reaching out to our partners, our manufacturers, our state agencies, our universities and community colleges, and any other interested parties and asking one question: How can we work together and use those extra dollars to make Colorado manufacturing stronger?
We have the opportunity, with the increased money and the match, to change the landscape for how manufacturing is supported in Colorado. With all of our friends and partners, with increased funding from Commerce, and with the strong base we already have at Manufacturer’s Edge, we intend to do just that, and continue or work to improve the quality and quantity of manufacturing in the State of Colorado.
Tom Bugnitz is CEO of Manufacturers Edge, formerly CAMT. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org