South Carolina Senator “Fritz” Hollings was a strong supporter of technology and U.S. industrial competitiveness. The Senator introduced legislation that led to the establishment of the Manufacturing Technology Centers (MTC) Program through the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
In December 2004, in recognition of his tireless support of South Carolina’s small manufacturers and manufacturers nationwide, John Irion, former SCMEP President and founding member of the American Small Manufacturers Coalition (ASMC) board of directors, presented Senator Fritz Hollings with the ASMC 2004 Legislator of the Year Award.
The mission of NIST, a non-regulatory federal agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce, is to promote U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness.
The Program started in 1989 with regional centers in three states – South Carolina, Ohio, and New York. The mission of these regional centers was to support the transfer of manufacturing technology to improve the productivity and technological capabilities of America’s small manufacturers. Congress urged participation from industry, universities, state governments and federal agencies, and national labs that are part of NIST.
Early experience with the MTC Program indicated a gap between the technology developed in federal labs and the capabilities of many small manufacturers to utilize it. The companies often had more basic needs for management information technology, financial management systems, and fundamental business processes to improve their profitability. As a result, the services provided by the centers to assist these small companies were re-oriented toward productivity improvements.
The number of centers grew rapidly, soon providing services to all 50 states and Puerto Rico, and in 1998 the Program was re-named the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP). The funding formula mandated that one-third of funding would be provided by the MEP Program, one-third would come from state or local sources, and one-third would be collected in fees from the small manufacturers helped by the Program.
Today the MEP Program is a diverse network of 60 manufacturing extension centers consisting of both state-university-based and freestanding non-profit (501c(3)) organizations. Services are delivered through direct assistance from center staff, outside consultants or a combination of both. Each center works directly with local companies to provide services customized for their most critical needs, ranging from process improvements and employee training to new business practices and the application of information technology.
“Fritz” Hollings maintained his support for the MEP Program through his retirement in 2004 when, in his honor, it was re-designated the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership.
- SCMEP was established in 1989 as one of the three original extension centers under the Department of Commerce’s NIST MEP Program.
- The University of South Carolina originally managed the Center, then named Southeast Manufacturing Technology Center, or SMTC.
- A non-profit organization was retained to manage the Center in 1992.
- Became an independent organization in 1996, advised by a fiduciary Board of Directors.
- Authority for funding transferred to the SC Commission on Higher Education in 2003, flowing directly to the SCMEP Board, resulting in greater stability of state funds for SCMEP.
- Invited by the SC Competitiveness Council in 2006 to chair the state-wide Composites cluster initiative.
- In 2012, Authority of funding was transferred to the DOC working under the existing industry program.