Manufacturing Alliance to See Boost from Grant

Article excerpt

Journal Record Staff Reporter

A $2.7 million federal grant will mean a big boost in size and activity for Oklahoma's manufacturing resource extension network, the Oklahoma Alliance for Manufacturing Excellence.

The money, announced last week, will be combined with $2.7 million in privately raised matching money for a total $5.4 million over two years, said Sheri Stickley, director of technology development programs for the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology.

The alliance went on line in January, modeled upon feedback solicited from owners of Oklahoma manufacturing companies. They said help was most needed in the areas of technology, marketing, finance, human resource management and collaboration with other companies.

Now, 11 people work as field agents, calling on small manufacturers at their facilities. Ten regional manufacturer councils have been established for manufacturers to work together, sharing common problems and finding ways to collaborate, Stickley said.

The new funding will go toward hiring 13 or 14 additional "broker agents" and four additional "industry sector specialists." The specialists are individuals stationed at the Oklahoma Department of Commerce to gather industry intelligence and disseminate the information to manufacturers it can help.

"There are very few national manufacturing associations in Oklahoma. Those kinds of organizations are the ones that normally provide such information," Stickley said. The idea was for industry sector specialists to step into that void and provide information on market trends, technology and changes in governmental regulations.

So far, there are two specialists _ one in aviation and aerospace, and another in electronics. With the new money, specialists will be added in plastics, food processing, instrumentation and industrial machinery.

The Oklahoma Alliance for Manufacturing Excellence has been fostered by the commerce department and OCAST, but it's a private, nonprofit corporation founded by a group of Oklahoma manufacturers. The alliance plus a consortia of eight regional co-sponsoring groups pay for the salaries and overhead of the broker-agents.

To apply for the federal grant, the alliance and the consortia banded together with OCAST and the commerce department. "You realize how many organizations across the state had to get together and collaborate to make this happen," noted Stickley. "Not every state can muster the degree of cooperation and collaboration we've been able to do."

OCAST will function as the funding administrator for the grant, which is sponsored by a variety of federal agencies: the departments of defense, energy, transportation and commerce, plus the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Science Foundation. …