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State Program to Tap WPI’s Manufacturing Expertise

March 8, 2015 : Telegram & Gazette, by Peter S. Cohan

A state program is offering to subsidize manufacturing consulting services for local companies delivered by four organizations that the state has dubbed “innovation centers.” The aim of that program is to help local companies grow.

The program — called the Manufacturing Innovation Grants program — is being offered by MassDevelopment, which is a quasi-state finance and development agency. MassDevelopment “works with businesses, nonprofits, financial institutions, and communities to stimulate economic growth across the commonwealth.”

MassDevelopment says that it is providing tangible benefits to the state in the form of capital investment, jobs and improvement in the quality of housing. As it said, “During FY2014, MassDevelopment financed or managed 314 projects generating investment of more than $2.9 billion in the Massachusetts economy. These projects are projected to create more than 6,300 jobs and build or rehabilitate more than 1,600 residential units.”

The Manufacturing Innovation Grants program is offering to subsidize consulting services for small state manufacturers. Specifically, companies with 100 or fewer employees will receive advice and equipment “to support product development, prototyping, scaling up and cost reduction.”

The providers of expertise are: WPI — that will provide “discounted services and expertise to help small- to medium-sized manufacturers grow their businesses; “Bellingham’s Algonquin Industries Inc.; Waltham’s Boston Engineering Corp.; and East Hartford, Conn.’s. Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology Inc. (CCAT).

Through the Manufacturing Innovation Grants program MassDevelopment will pay “the lesser of 75 percent or $75,000 of the cost of a contract between a manufacturing company and the innovation center of its choice.” The client companies will cover any amount above that grant and will contract directly with the innovation centers of their choice.

MassDevelopment aims to strengthen the state’s manufacturing sector. Marty Jones, MassDevelopment president and chief executive officer, said, “Massachusetts has all the right elements for a strong manufacturing sector: innovative new and established companies, a supportive public-private coalition of industry champions, and higher education institutions that are preparing the future workforce. The Manufacturing Innovation Grants program links these elements, connecting growing companies with innovation centers to provide affordable access to expertise and equipment — which, in turn, strengthens the Massachusetts manufacturing sector as a whole.”

WPI views the program as an opportunity to use its expertise to help small manufacturing companies in the state.

Bogdan M. Vernescu, WPI’s vice provost for research, said, “For the past 150 years, Worcester Polytechnic Institute has been a key player in the economic development in Massachusetts. The MassDevelopment Grant program recognizes our past contributions and strength in manufacturing and helps us reaffirm and facilitate our commitment to use our expertise for the support and development of the manufacturing sector in Massachusetts. We are proud to be part of this public-private coalition to support the translation of exciting ideas and research into advanced products.”

WPI will seek to help manufacturers grow by solving many of their business problems. As Walter Towner, director of the WPI Center for Innovative Manufacturing Solutions, explained, “Small and medium manufacturing enterprises might have technical challenges in bringing a product to market, advancing their operations to secure new contracts, entering new markets, overcoming obstacles in their innovation efforts or trying to satisfy new opportunities from within their existing customer base.”

Companies that work with WPI will have access to many of its resources.

According to Mr. Towner, “The grant is administered by the WPI Foisie School of Business, and has access to all areas of WPI for participation. Once a company is accepted into the innovation center, a plan of action that responds to the needs of the company is developed with milestones and outcomes. From this point, depending upon the size and complexity of the innovation challenge, anyone in the WPI community will be able to participate in this joint learning effort. Undergraduate, graduate and PhD students as well as faculty and subject matter experts are eligible to participate.”

WPI has worked with different manufacturing companies. These include “a local electroplating company that is seeking to develop improved quality assurance methods and metrics in its processes, and a company that forms parts from vinyl and needs to better understand how to bend and form thin vinyl sheets to respond to a growing market opportunity,” he said.

MassDevelopment believes that this program will pay off for the state.

As MassDevelopment’s spokesman Emily Dahl explained, the program “will disburse a maximum of $1.3 million in aggregate on contracts with the four designated centers, and the payoff to the commonwealth is in encouraging companies to pursue innovation and expertise — that may otherwise be cost-prohibitive and/or unknown to them.”

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