By Bill May
Journal Record Staff Reporter
A new twist on an old idea is helping further diversify
Oklahoma's economy and fuel a growing feeling of economic
The old idea is the agriculture extension service, which has
been in existence nearly a century to help farmers learn more
about farming and new farm technology as well as how to deal with
But the twist is taking that service into the manufacturing
sector which will enable small- and medium-sized companies to
take advantage of technological improvements and capture new
"Even that's not new," said Edmund J. Farrell of Tulsa,
president of the Oklahoma Alliance for Manufacturing Excellence
Inc. "When they started the agricultural extension service, there
were major discussions on whether this service should be offered
to industry or agriculture. Because farmers seemed to need the
most help, agriculture was selected as the recipient of the
Still, Oklahoma's idea is to develop an extension service
which will help manufacturers learn more about technology, its
application to specific industries and how to take advantage of
While Farrell down played the significance of Oklahoma's plan,
the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a federal
agency, has twice awarded grants to the Oklahoma Center for the
Advancement of Science and Technology to implement the plan.
Announcement of the latest grant came in mid-December when the
federal agency said of the 37 states which applied for grants,
only six were awarded, and Oklahoma's idea was in the top two.
Idea behind the alliance is to "increase the wealth of every
Oklahoman by increasing the wealth of each company by improving
the amount of business that it does," Farrell said.
"We developed this program through a series of planning
meetings where the customer, the individual small and medium
business, told us what they need and want," he said. "The problem
is identifying exactly what is technology transfer and how will
this affect the small business we're dealing with.
"Everything we do that makes a change in one aspect of a
business will make a change in nearly every other aspect of the
"As an example, a small machine shop is known for its quality
work and has a good base of customers suddenly starts losing out
to competitors, and finds the reason is the company cannot hold
tolerances to the proper levels.
"Probably what that company needs to do is switch from a
manual machine to a CNC (computerized numerical control) machine
which will hold exact tolerances time after time. The only
problem is that now the company has a whole new bunch of changes
to deal with.
"First, someone has to help the company set up the work flow,
the paperwork flow, the quality inspection so that everything can
be documented. Since the new machine is computer controlled, the
company must have someone who can program, operate, maintain and
repair the computer, a job that didn't exist.
"What other procedures, upstream and downstream, will have to
be changed just because this machine was adopted?
"That's technology transfer, even though the company may still
be making the same low-technology part," Farrell said. "There's a
company in Poteau (Johnson Controls Corp.) which is definitely a
low-tech operation. …