Matt Allmand knows the importance of manufacturing to rural towns and communities. Allmand, director of the Nebraska Manufacturing Extension Partnership, brings a personal connection that resonates with manufacturing clients. For years, he led his family's Holdrege-based business, Allmand Bros., Inc. through unprecedented growth as a leading designer and manufacturer of high-quality, portable job-site equipment. Now, Allmand is focused on applying that experience to helping manufacturing companies succeed across the state by leading the Nebraska Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP).
"We have training on a wide variety of key tools that repeatedly improve efficiencies and grow revenue," explains Allmand. "But I think the most important service we offer is helping manufacturers develop a strategy to create a culture of performance and trust. Without strategy you may efficiently move your organization the wrong direction, and without a culture that fosters trust and rewards performance, it's hard to get even the right things done."
The Nebraska MEP is part of the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership program. Residing within the U.S. Department of Commerce, MEP was created in 1988 with the intent of enhancing the productivity and technological performance of U.S. manufacturers. Today, the MEP program consists of 51 centers in every state and Puerto Rico with over 400 service locations and 1,300 technical experts working together to advance and strengthen U.S. manufacturing.
The Nebraska Manufacturing Extension Partnership is Nebraska's go-to source for advancing manufacturing. The program offers training, certification and consulting services relating to strategy, workforce, sustainability and compliance, sales and marketing, continuous improvement, quality and technology and innovation. Since 2014, the Nebraska MEP has served more than 200 companies, including many affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. In August, the Nebraska MEP received $300,000 in CARES Act funding, which it made available to assist manufacturers navigating the pandemic.
"The coronavirus has produced a very challenging business environment which has impacted Nebraska manufacturers in a variety of ways," Allmand said. "The CARES Act funding allowed the Nebraska MEP to offer select services free-of-charge or at greatly reduced pricing to provide the tools and methodology to strategize, operate more efficiently, and execute their business effectively."
Typically, the MEP conducts a competitive assessment with each client and identifies areas of strengths and weaknesses. Often, on-site training is offered.
"Rural areas typically don't attract a large talent pool," said Joe Roy, Nebraska MEP business development specialist. "So companies are very interested in retaining and developing the high-potential employees that are currently on staff. We've been doing many supervisor development sessions because our clients point to it and say, 'That's what we need.'"
Opening new markets is key for small manufacturers to survive, and the Nebraska MEP also offers guidance so companies can obtain the certification and level of efficiency needed to become a supplier to much larger, international companies.
"That's great for the small manufacturer's bottom line, and it also helps retain jobs," said Mike Nagle, associate director of the MEP.
The Nebraska MEP brings to the table partnerships within the University of Nebraska. The ethanol industry is uniquely served by the MEP and Nebraska Engineering through annual Process Safety workshops, co-sponsored by the Nebraska Ethanol Board and other agencies. The MEP also coordinates intern placement via the College of Engineering Partners in Pollution Prevention program.
Last October, the Nebraska MEP joined the Made in Nebraska Manufacturing Alliance, with the Nebraska Manufacturing Advisory Council, the Nebraska Advanced Manufacturing Coalition, and the Nebraska Chamber. The Alliance will align resources to equip and educate a skilled workforce, promote and advocate for manufacturing, and deepen supply-chains and business relationships.
Nearly a third of manufacturing in the state comes from the food sector. The MEP partners with the UNL Food Processing Center to provide food safety services and workshops throughout the year. Currently, the Nebraska MEP is part of a coalition with Missouri Enterprise and Kansas Manufacturing Solutions for Food Safety in the Heartland, a grant-funded food safety initiative to educate human and animal food manufacturers on the proper preventive controls and oversight during the production process.
With over 100 years of manufacturing experience among staff, best practices and strategic partnerships, the Nebraska MEP is uniquely positioned to serve the manufacturers of Nebraska.
"We are not a book-of-the-week club keeping you up-to-date on the latest jargon," said Allmand. "We provide tried-and-true best practices within a framework that ensures execution and improvements to your bottom line."