Helping Manufacturers Thrive, Not Just Survive

by Eric Wright


Manufacturing has long been a cornerstone of our national economy.  This crucial sector is central to the creation and retention of good jobs and a good standard of living for working families.  In both larger cities and smaller communities, manufacturing jobs offer powerful economic benefits that spread far beyond manufacturing itself.  According to the National Association of Manufacturing (NAM), each dollar’s worth of manufactured goods creates another $1.43 of activity in other sectors – twice the $0.71 multiplier for services.  Also, two-thirds of U.S. research and development capacity is concentrated in manufacturing.


NAM reports that the United States still has the largest manufacturing sector in the world, and its market share (around 20 percent) has held steady for 30 years.  One in six private sector jobs is still in or directly tied to manufacturing.  Moreover, productivity growth is higher in manufacturing than in other sectors of the economy.  It is worth noting, that due largely to this outstanding productivity growth, the prices of manufactured goods have declined since 1995 in contrast to inflation in most other sectors – with the result that manufacturers are contributing to a higher standard of living for U.S. consumers.  Manufacturing still pays premium wages and benefits, and supports much more economic activity per dollar of production than other sectors.


Cultivating Florida Manufacturing

In terms of sectors having the greatest economic impact on our home state, most Floridians think of our multi-billion dollar agricultural and tourism industries.  However one of the fastest growing segments, and the one that each year has a greater impact on the Space Coast, is manufacturing.  To nurture this vital sector, the Florida Manufacturing Extension Partnership (FLMEP) was created.  This not-for-profit organization is tasked with assisting small and mid-sized manufacturers to increase productivity and profits and help them transform into highly efficient and profitable world class enterprises.


Successful firms recognize that economic slowdowns can present hidden opportunities for growth.  By working with Florida MEP, hundreds of manufacturers have become more competitive by improving production efficiencies, developing new products, identifying new markets and increasing worker productivity.  The results are measurable bottom-line impacts.


Represented in Brevard County by Julie Song, Regional Manager for the Central Florida Team, the FL MEP is part of the nationwide MEP system consisting of 62 regional centers.  The FL MEP is funded primarily by NIST (National Institute of Standards & Technology), a Department of Commerce budget item.  FL MEP also receives funding through the State of Florida.


Song explained, “Our uniqueness is we are held to impacts from our clients.  NIST sends out a survey to any company we work with to determine the impact the services we have provided them has on them, such as cost savings, employee retention, increased sales, retained sales, etc.  The companies must agree to participate in the survey for our services and we are ‘graded’ on what our companies report back.”


Gary Borgman serves as general manager of Pirtek Space Coast, which provides mobile, on-sight hydraulic and high pressure hose repair service as far south as St. Lucie County and as far north as the Daytona Beach.  He commented, “Florida MEP’s procurement training program saved the day.  The training sessions and one-on-one coaching taught us how to succeed in the world of federal contracting and opened a huge new sales market to our company.”


Bringing the Best to Everyone

By leveraging public and private resources, Florida MEP works with manufacturing companies to deliver customized performance-based training, strategic solutions, and key programs, including innovation engineering, supply chain management and growth strategies.


One of FL MEP’s most innovative programs is the M.O.S.T.® program, which stands for Mobile Outreach Skills Training.  State-of-the art mobile training vehicles (RVs and mobile classroom trailers) are equipped with computer workstations, CNC (Computer Numerical Control) equipment, and virtual reality welding training simulators to deliver customized workforce training at a manufacturer’s location.  This unique job placement program identifies jobs prior to training, trains hard-to-serve populations for high-wage jobs with benefits, and fills the existing skills gap.  The M.O.S.T. jobs training program has a completion rate of 94 percent, a placement rate of 96 percent and a retention rate of 91 percent.


FL MEP also offers TechPoint®, an advanced simulation training system that trains participants on virtual CNC machines identical to those in a manufacturer’s shop.  The FL MEP TechPoint CNC machining program is completely funded by a U.S. Department of Labor grant without any cost to the employer or employee.


TechPoint training features revolutionary new technology that allows trainees to design a machine part, enter the correct codes, and virtually machine the part on the latest makes/models of CNC equipment utilizing “collision avoidance” alerts – all without leaving their desks.


Dale Coxwell, president of Coastal Steel, Inc. observed, “The value of the FL MEP training has been enormous to Coastal Steel.  Our company has benefited from the resources offered by FL MEP.  They have enriched our company by providing motivation, self-esteem, new skills, and education to our employees through the training and development programs they promote.”


Why Haven’t We Heard?

When asked why the work of the FLMEP isn’t better known to the general public, Song responded, “Our board determined years ago they would not use government money (federal and/or state) to market the Center and thus compete with for-profit companies that provide similar services.  FL MEP uses partners, such as economic development agencies, universities, and workforce boards, to offer our services to their manufacturing clients.”


She continued, “98 percent of my clients come from relationships with either a company representative or a referral from a CPA, lawyer, banker, etc.  FL MEP networks and supports either by participating or financially sponsoring opportunities where we will meet potential clients who can use our services.”


“There are a lot of companies here in Brevard that most people have no idea exist, and really cool items being produced right here in our county.  Some are for Department of Defense initiatives, others are commercial.  With the current announcements of new companies coming to Brevard, I see the ripple effect around the corner where their suppliers will want to set up shop near their customer.  This can also be driven by the large company looking to have their supplier close by.”


Bringing It to Brevard

Julie Song

Julie Song, Regional Manager for the Central FloridA Team, Florida MEP

Prior to being employed with the FL MEP, Song worked with the EDC of Florida’s Space Coast as the Director of Business Retention and Expansion.  The EDC had a partnership with the FL MEP, but there was not a FL MEP representative living in Brevard.  So when she would speak to a manufacturer here, she would ask if they would like to meet with FL MEP.  She then would call the Center Headquarters in Celebration, Fla. and they would assign a staff person from Orange, Volusia, or Martin County, who would come up, meet with the client, work with them and then go back to their respective area.  As Song observed, “They weren’t involved in the community here, they didn’t know the players; they had their own hometown/area where they were involved in community activities.”


“The EDC also would offer open workshops for companies to attend, either at no cost (funded through a grant) or a reduced cost, and when a FL MEP staff person met a company in a workshop, that may have turned into a project.  I always was asking the Center to find someone in Brevard to be here; we have so many manufacturers in this county.  It came to a discussion one day and the Center Director asked if I would like to do it.  I knew the players; I am active in the community; and I had the connections to get the services of the FL MEP out to our community.  I got the “win/win” job as I am still very supportive and active with the EDC and work with the same sector – focusing on manufacturing,” Song recalled.


According to Milken Institute, Brevard boasts the most concentrated high-tech economy in the State of Florida and the 7th most concentrated in the nation.  Business journals have ranked Brevard 8th in a list of the country’s Top 100 U.S. Tech Centers in 2009.  In addition, Florida ranked 6th on the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council’s “Small Business Survival Index 2009: Ranking the Policy Environment for Entrepreneurship Across the Nation.”  These and other factors make manufacturing a key to Brevard’s economic future and the FL MEP is doing everything it can to ensure that the future is bright.


FL MEP: Making an Impact

The economic impacts of the Florida Manufacturing Extension Partnership program in Brevard County and on the Florida economy is determined by NIST (National Institute Standards & Technology) surveys.


Brevard companies surveyed reported that, as a result of their relationship with the Florida MEP, they have:

  • Created 154 jobs that otherwise would not have existed
  • Retained 204 jobs that otherwise would not have existed
  • Increased and retained $29.3 million in sales
  • Spent $6.9 million on new investment
  • Experienced $2.2 million in cost savings


The Florida MEP is responsible for:

  • Creating or retaining 1,159  jobs that paid a total of $58.7 million in employee wages and benefits
  • Increasing or retaining economic output worth $327.3 million
  • Contributing or retaining $102.1 million of gross state product
  • Generating or retaining $22.3 million in additional tax and non-tax revenues at the

federal, state, and local government levels, including $8.1 million at the state and local level