Gearing Up: Manufacturing Extension Partnership Center Responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on U.S. manufacturing over the past year. In the short term, the pandemic has curtailed demand for many manufactured goods and interrupted supply chains en masse. Yet, it has also provided opportunities for manufacturers to pursue creative and adaptive strategies, for example shifting production to personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical devices. The scale of these manufacturing gains or losses have not rested entirely on the decision-making capacity or resourcefulness of a few individual firms, but also relied on that institutional support and coordinated assistance that manufacturing operations receive now and throughout the post-pandemic recovery period. The 2020 CARES Act recognized the potential of manufacturers to implement creatives strategies in response to the pandemic, and distributed $50 million in support to manufacturing adaptation efforts coordinated by the U.S. Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP).
Established in 1988 by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), MEP is a decentralized network of 51 centers, representing each state and Puerto Rico. In 2019, MEP centers interacted with more than 28,000 manufacturers. That support generated $15.7 billion in new and retained sales, $1.5 billion in cost savings and created or retained more than 114,000 U.S. manufacturing jobs.
This project assesses how our federally-funded manufacturing extension system is delivering support to manufacturers that need assistance in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic using these institutional supports as well as the re-purposing of existing resources.
In the Fall of 2020, a team of researchers at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, led by CURS Interim Director Nichola Lowe, professor in the department of city and regional planning, conducted research to document the wide range of responses of MEP centers to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of these responses are new and the direct outcome of CARES Act funding, while others leverage and expand pre-pandemic programs. The profiles contain data collected between August 17 and December 18, 2020, and therefore do not include any initiatives that may have been developed subsequent to that date.
This project was supported by the North Carolina Policy Collaboratory at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with funding from the North Carolina Coronavirus Relief Fund, established and appropriated by the North Carolina General Assembly.