Magazine article National Defense

Small Businesses Need Upgraded Technology: Pennsylvania Lawmaker Supports Program to Enhance Manufacturing Capabilities

Magazine article National Defense

Small Businesses Need Upgraded Technology: Pennsylvania Lawmaker Supports Program to Enhance Manufacturing Capabilities

Article excerpt

Small business owners and chief executives from across the United States claim that they have immense difficulties competing in the defense industry, where giant companies dominate the marker.

In an effort to help small firms become more competitive, a Pennsylvania congressman sponsored a government program called Technology Insertion Demonstration and Evaluation (TIDE). The program receives $5 million a year from the Department of Defense, and is managed by the Carnegie Mellon University's Software Engineering Institute, a federally funded research and development center.

The TIDE program focuses on software technology to help companies run their businesses more effectively. TIDE is in its third and final year, because the program is phasing into a permanent organization, the Center for Manufacturing Excellence. It will continue to be based at the Software Engineering Institute.

Mike Doyle, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, initiated the TIDE Program, with key support from fellow congressman John Murtha, another Pennsylvanian who is the ranking Democrat on the Defense Appropriations Committee.

Even though small business assistance programs often are perceived as unnecessary pork-barrel spending, Doyle claims that the TIDE project offers tangible benefits to the U.S. defense industry and contributes to its competitiveness.

"We have a strong manufacturing tradition in Pittsburgh," Doyle said of his congressional district. "But these are not the big guys. We have smaller and medium size manufacturers," he said. The group isn't Silicon Valley, "but we have strengths," he said.

With the intent to grow the regional economy and capitalize on the area's strengths in manufacturing, Doyle hosted a high-tech summit in 1998, to address how small-to medium-sized businesses could keep current with software developments, so they could improve business processes. Our of that summit came the idea that a technology demonstration program should be established.

The TIDE program was rolled out in 2000, and has experienced success in helping small businesses improve their bottom line, said Doyle. Murtha's Web site says the TIDE program has contributed to the creation of about 10,000 software jobs regionally.

With the first phase ending, Doyle pointed out that the program was only meant to have a temporary status, until it could be transitioned into a larger effort. "We'll be phasing in the Center for Manufacturing Excellence, where small companies can come in and kick the tire, so to speak," he added.

Doyle explained that many small businesses don't have an adequate cash flow to invest in software or database technology, especially if they are not sure how it works, or if it will be the right thing for their business. For that reason, "They were starting to fall behind," he said.

At the same time, the Defense Department was having trouble finding small contractors to supply various items, Doyle said. So the summit was developed to "put together some demonstration projects, to show them (the small businesses) some new techniques. Most owners of small companies want to modernize," said Doyle. "They want to utilize the software that's out there, but they have a hard time determining what's the right software for them," he said. That's where TIDE comes in. "Companies can test things out before they make the commitment to purchase it," he said.

"Emerging software technologies have great potential to enhance manufacturing competitiveness, but there is a need for technology transition support to help manufacturers adopt and apply these technologies effectively," Doyle said.

Programs such as TIDE should, in the long term, contribute to a greater presence by small businesses in the defense contractor community. "Big companies don't have time to go to these small companies to get them up to speed so they can use them in the supply chain," but they still want to contract out certain jobs to small businesses, Doyle said. …

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