By CELESTE BOTT
Capital News Service
LANSING – Manufacturing organizations are partnering after receiving a $2.19 million federal grant through the Advanced Manufacturing Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge.
According to the Southeast Michigan Community Alliance (SEMCA), the grant will fund the Southeast Michigan Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Realization Cluster project—known as “the Cluster”—and connect manufacturers across the state to form a fast-growing community of firms.
Participants include the Southeast Michigan Community Alliance in Taylor, the Society of Manufacturing Engineers in Dearborn, the Workforce Intelligence Network in Detroit, the Detroit Regional Chamber and the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center in Plymouth.
SEMCA will act as the fiscal agent for key elements of the grant, and each participating organization will have responsibility over a portion of the funds, with the common goal of “connecting manufacturing firms and helping them support lower-volume, rapid-production, highly custom projects,” according to SEMCA.
Data from the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis shows that manufacturers account for nearly 16 percent of the state’s total gross state product and employ about 12.3 percent of the workforce.
According to the participating organizations, forming the Cluster will allow smaller, traditional manufacturers to pool resources. Their new support system will provide new business connections, research on niche markets, training and education programs and other assistance.
Supporters of the project include General Electric Co. and United Precision Products Co. Inc., both of which have advanced manufacturing production facilities in Michigan. Both companies wrote letters on behalf of the project.
GE is directly involved with the project, managing funds from the Department of Energy to provide and promote new digital manufacturing tools.
GE will work with the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences, based in Ann Arbor, another project partner.
Alissa Roath, the lead for the center-Cluster partnership, said that the organization’s work with GE will open doors.
“These new sets of modeling and simulation tools are alternatives to a physical prototype that will save time and money and diversify business,” Roath said. “And Michigan suppliers will have the chance to get involved with a company like GE.”
Mike Finney, president of the Michigan Economic Development Corp., said that these kind of partnerships will be key in providing greater access and opportunity.
“Manufacturers throughout Southeast Michigan are well-positioned to compete in this space,” Finney said. “We can fuel innovation by teaching new processes and opening the door to new markets.”
Lisa Katz, executive director of the Workforce Intelligence Network, said Michigan’s long history of manufacturing makes it the ideal candidate for this sort of funding.
According to Katz, the federal challenge was highly competitive, with more than 60 applications and only 10 grant recipients nationwide.
The program is funded by five federal agencies.
Katz said that what’s unique about Southeast Michigan’s project is its wide variety of manufacturing partners, each playing a unique role in the process.
WIN is the project coordinator, and Katz said that her agency’s job is to make sure it is a multi-partner initiative and not just a collection of individual projects.
“We’ll be making sure the partners are touching base and telling our stories together,” Katz said. “We convene regional groups to form a task force, looping them into the process and engaging them with other manufacturers that our partners have identified. We address their needs together,” she said.
WIN is partly comprised of the Michigan Works! agencies and eight community colleges, and Katz said the group’s contribution will be helping manufacturers identify educational and training requirements for new manufacturing opportunities.
They will then be connected to whichever WIN unit can best provide the development program they need.
The Detroit Regional Chamber will form relationships with buyers and engineers in new markets, including aerospace, alternative energy and electric vehicles. It is also using the grant to start up and support more minority-owned companies within the Cluster.
The Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center will provide management mentoring for Cluster participants.
According to center President Mike Coast, it will promote innovative marketing strategies.
“We work with small to mid-sized manufacturers, and there are over 12,000 in the state, around 45 percent in the automotive industry,” Coast said.
“Once we find them and connect with them, we can provide them with customized market research and sales training so they can prioritize perspective markets,” he said.
Katz said new connections are key.
“What’s compelling about this project is that we promote the intersection between our manufacturing and the push towards entrepreneurship in our community,” Katz said.