By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
Throughout my three careers, I have maintained a consistent interest in helping small and medium size manufacturers adopt and adapt the latest technologies available to help them remain competitive in their market sectors.
My passion was sparked more than four decades ago when I joined the fledgling Institute for Public Service (IPS) at the University of Tennessee (UT). One of the agencies of IPS was the Center for Industrial Services, a name that aptly described its role: helping manufacturers. Over the years, the Center transitioned from being able to provide its services free of charge to, in many cases, having to charge a modest fee. For many companies, even small fees are challenging, particularly during this recent extended period of economic uncertainty.
Later, as Director of Partnerships at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), I witnessed firsthand the amazing expertise that resided in the lab – in the minds of scientists, in the discoveries they made, and in world class centers like the new Manufacturing Demonstration Facility and Carbon Fiber Technology Facility.
Yet, just like UT CIS, national laboratories are limited in their ability to serve manufacturers without cost reimbursement.
I can recall conversations in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s about various ways to buy down the cost of researchers’ time to make it more affordable for the smaller manufacturers that dot Tennessee’s landscape. Those ideas never came to fruition until now.
You no doubt recall the famous adage about everyone talking about the weather, but no one doing anything about it.
Well, UT and ORNL have decided to do something to address the need, thanks to $2.5 million in funding from the State of Tennessee.
It’s a new program that goes by the acronym “RevV!,” a clear metaphor for accelerating the adoption of technologies that will allow Tennessee manufacturers to not only stay in business, but to also grow by adding new jobs.
The official name is the “Tennessee Manufacturing Innovation Program.” As noted on the RevV! webpage, “The purpose of this pilot program is to assist Tennessee manufacturers by providing access to the world-class researchers and facilities available at ORNL through an industry voucher program. ORNL will work with manufacturers across the state to tackle their toughest challenges in product development and in process innovation to help ensure Tennessee manufacturers maintain a competitive advantage in the global marketplace.”
For manufacturers, the process is fairly simple. There’s one qualification: companies must currently manufacture a product and employ a minimum of 10 employees within the boundaries of Tennessee or have made a firm commitment to do so.
Once that threshold is met, the process is straightforward. Applicants use a template available on the “RevV!” webpage to complete a proposal that is not more than five pages in length and submit it to the “RevV!” Program Administrator.
Selection criteria are:
- The company’s statement of the need for the proposed project;
- The potential for Tennessee job creation, new capital investment or jobs saved as a result of this project;
- The potential for new product development or significant process improvements;
- The availability of ORNL staff and equipment to perform the work requested; and
- The fact that the project takes advantage of unique assets at ORNL.
This is really a significant opportunity for smaller manufacturers, and I would encourage those with technology challenges or opportunities to take advantage of “RevV!”