Columbus, Ohio

Like other Manufacturing Extension Partnerships nationwide, the Ohio MEP is committed to assisting small and medium-sized businesses with the evaluation and guidance needed for successful growth in their fields.

Federal funding from the program’s creation in 1988 and state funding in Ohio defray the costs of operation, allowing the Ohio MEP to offer their services at a substantially lower cost to businesses than private, outside consulting services would be able to.

Aaron Patrick, the Director of Management Assistance Programs for the Strategic Investment Division of Ohio’s Department of Development, administers the state’s MEP. It serves Ohio’s eighty-eight counties, through six regional partners. He says, “We receive very good support from the state of Ohio for this program. The reason we do this flow-down to these regional partners is that we want every county to have coverage, and to let them know that we are here, and we are here to help them with whatever challenges that they may have.” Three of those partners are located at universities, and three are at 501C non-profits, and each is charged with providing support to manufacturers to help them become more competitive, and to create more jobs.

With just over 100 employees spread around the state, with a mix of manufacturing and marketing backgrounds and certifications, the Ohio MEP has the expertise to assist virtually any industry, including the highly specialized food manufacturing business. Ohio has a wide variety of manufacturing specialties, and the MEP currently serves a mix of more than 1,000 businesses each year, with no particular dominance from any one industry.

Areas of Focus

The main areas of focus for the Ohio MEP are business growth, overall business improvement, and risk mitigation. Business growth includes activities such as market research, product design, product development, and strategic planning. Patrick says that many small and medium-sized manufacturers do not often complete strategic planning and the MEP helps them look toward the future for market trends and consideration. ISO Quality certifications can also lead to important growth potential for many manufacturers, and the MEP is there to help them navigate the requirements to achieve their goals. They also assist with workforce development and training for management as businesses grow.

Business Improvement

The business improvement category is the foundation of the MEP program’s goals, assisting with streamlining processing and making operations more efficient, to better prepare manufacturers for expansion and finding growth opportunities. Adopting new technology to improve output and quality, and to make more efficient use of staff, are avenues that the program helps businesses better understand and take advantage of. Patrick says, “I think that five to seven years ago, firms looked at technology as potentially eliminating jobs, whereas now they view it as ‘I can’t hire people, so what am I going to do?’ Our answer is that you’ve got to be shifting your workforce into those important areas that really need a person to do a process or a specific task, and allow technology to do the more repetitive, and in some cases, the more difficult tasks, to free up manpower to do more important tasks.” Supply chain management is also a key part of improving efficiency, and the MEP works to broaden sourcing for materials and services to avoid potential bottlenecks. State-to-state cooperation between MEP programs is an asset not only in solving supply chain issues but also in dealing with other concerns.

Risk Mitigation

On the risk mitigation front, cybersecurity has risen to the forefront, with the interconnection of various manufacturing processes being a crucial part of today’s business environment. The MEP assists with helping companies put procedures in place to manually bypass potential issues, should a security breach occur. Certifications for security in defense and other types of manufacturing are also necessary for many companies, and here again, the MEP is ready to lend a hand in meeting the requirements.

Emerging Industries

Emerging industries in the state are a focus for the MEP. With the arrival of Intel’s chip manufacturing, and Honda’s EV battery plant, they are working hard to provide the small and medium-sized businesses with the knowledge they will need to supply products for those larger entities.

The Way Ahead

Introducing a new workforce to manufacturing careers is also a challenge that the Ohio MEP is working on, as it becomes harder and harder to find people interested in a traditional manufacturing job of starting at the bottom and working one’s way up the ladder. Recruiting, training, and certifying new workers are all part of the effort to expand and improve manufacturing in Ohio and across the country.

In summing it up, Patrick says, “The intent is for us to be viewed as the ‘go-to’ resource for manufacturers across the state, so we do have very long-term relationships with some manufacturers. We also have situations where we do a project with a manufacturer and that’s all we do with them. Right now, what we’re trying to do is expand our marketing so that folks know that we’re here, and we’re here to help them.”

Photo by Mike Beaumount