By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
The University of Tennessee’s (UT) Center for Industrial Services (CIS) received some really good news last week.
It was one of 10 non-profit organizations awarded new cooperative agreements to, in CIS’ case, continue managing the Tennessee component of the national Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) program. And, in the process, it realized a nearly 60 percent increase in federal funding and an equally important reduction in the matching requirement for those dollars.
“This is a great achievement for our CIS team and the culmination of a long process,” said Executive Director Paul Jennings. “Ultimately, this will provide CIS with greater capacity to achieve its mission of helping Tennessee manufacturers grow, succeed and create high quality jobs.”
CIS was established by the Tennessee General Assembly more than 50 years ago to help smaller manufacturers. Its initial name was the Tennessee Industrial Research Advisory Service. In the early 1990s, CIS partnered with the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development to successfully win one of the initial MEP centers. Leadership for the Tennessee MEP was transferred to CIS in late 1997.
Under the new agreement, CIS will receive almost $2 million a year in federal funding, a significant increase, and also see its matching requirement drop from the current $1 of federal funds for each $2 generated in Tennessee revenues to a 1:1 requirement.
As a former UT Vice President to whom CIS ultimately reported, I know how important the MEP funds have been to providing a higher level of services to small manufacturers. Nevertheless, the opportunity to be one of the first centers to re-compete its program did not come easy.
“First, we had to decide to seek the opportunity to re-compete,” Jennings said, adding that “we made the calculation that the timing was right.”
Next, he explained that the National Institutes of Science and Technology (NIST), the federal agency that oversees the MEP program, had to decide to select Tennessee as one of the initial 10 re-compete states. Once selected, it was a full-court effort.
“We put together a proposal that addressed NIST goals and demonstrated why UT CIS is the best place to house the TMEP program,” Jennings said. “Throughout this process, we had tremendous participation and support from CIS staff, UT Institute for Public Service and UT leadership, and our many partners across the state. It was truly a team effort.”
The other states in the initial re-competition were Colorado, Connecticut, Indiana, Michigan, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas and Virginia.
To read more about the competition, click here for the official NIST MEP news release.