100 Bureau Drive, M/S 4800
Gaithersburg, MD 20899-4800
For more than 25 years, the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) has been committed to enhancing the competitiveness of U.S. manufacturers. As the global manufacturing climate has shifted, MEP has evolved to meet changing needs.
In the 1980s U.S. manufacturing began to lose ground to Japan. In consumer electronics, steel, and other industries, U.S. goods were of lesser quality, production processes were deemed comparatively outdated, and innovation stagnated.
In response, the Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988 was passed, establishing
… manufacturing extension centers and services… to improve the competitiveness of firms accelerating the usage of appropriate manufacturing technology by smaller U.S. based manufacturing firms…
MEP’s purpose was to “disseminate technical information”. However, centers quickly determined that “expensive, untested, and too complex” technology wasn’t what most small and mid-sized manufacturers (SMEs) wanted. So they shifted to providing expertise, needs assessment, and training related to shop floor improvements, and the system rapidly grew.
In recent decades, intensifying global competition compelled U.S. manufacturers to adapt rapidly. Because MEP’s mission is to foster U.S. manufacturing, its services, products, and partnerships have evolved.
Three decades ago, embracing new production and quality control methods, the Japanese took the lead in innovation, product quality, and productivity. In response, quality and continuous improvement movements swept through U.S. industry in the 80s and 90s. But adopting these changes wasn’t easy; SMEs needed help with lean manufacturing, ISO certification, etc., and again MEP met the challenge.
The beginning of this century saw the rapid rise of low-cost manufacturing, especially in China. MEP’s production-related services are still in demand, but today’s manufacturers need more. MEP now offers growth-related services, focusing on enhancing the innovative capacity of small manufacturers. In addition, MEP has increased its partnerships in federal and state initiatives designed to advance the competitiveness of U.S. manufacturing, expanding MEP’s impact beyond individual firms to entire industry supply chains, manufacturing communities, and innovation ecosystems.
As MEP looks ahead, it will continue to respond to manufacturer needs and find ways to support and enhance U.S. manufacturing at the local, state, and federal level.
MEP is a public-private partnership, designed from inception as a cost-share program. Federal appropriations pay one-third, with the balance for each center funded by state / local governments and/or private entities, plus client fees. This cost-share model contributes to MEP’s success. It encourages centers to leverage resources and improve partnerships with other organizations and to emphasize services that are valued by manufacturers. A GAO study found that because client fees give manufacturers a higher stake in the outcome of services, the positive impact on their businesses is greater. Meanwhile, public funding allows smaller manufacturers to afford services.
Ernest Frederick "Fritz" Hollings (born January 1, 1922) served as a Democratic U.S. Senator from South Carolina from 1966 to 2005. In the Senate, he chaired two committees: Budget (1980-81) and Commerce, Science, and Transportation (1987-1995, 2001-2003). Senator Hollings was a strong supporter of technology and U.S. industrial competitiveness issues. He introduced the Technology Competitiveness Act of 1988, which became part of the Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act that created the MEP program. Senator Hollings became known as the "Father" of MEP; he maintained his support for the MEP program throughout his terms in the Senate. Upon his retirement, the program was re-designated the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership in his honor. MEP started with centers in three states - South Carolina, Ohio, and New York. Today, NIST Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership is a national network of affiliated extension centers and field offices in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. Learn More about the National Network
The NIST MEP statutory authority is 15 U.S.C. § 278k. The NIST MEP implementing regulations are set forth in 15 C.F.R. Part 290. View a copy of the Statue and Regulations