In the first installment of this series on manufacturing in Rhode Island, we talked about innovation, growth and new job creation – all byproducts of a healthy manufacturing environment, one which has changed from mass production to mass customization. Today I’ll describe the support infrastructure that has fueled this transformation, and is poised to support continuing growth.
There are four types of support systems for manufacturers in the state.
- Workforce development. Secondary and higher education systems recently have focused on training the workforce entering into manufacturing companies with programs like New England Institute of Technology’s Shipbuilding/Marine Trades and Advanced Manufacturing Institute, and the Community College of Rhode Island’s CNC Machinist Registered Apprenticeship Program. In May Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee signed the approval for the first nontraditional registered apprenticeship program in Rhode Island. Polaris MEP is the Manufacturing Industry Partner for the Governor’s Workforce Board and, alongside the Rhode Island Manufacturers Association, administers training grants for Ocean State manufacturers.
- Research and innovation infusion. Universities have created specific programs designed at infusing research into new product-development programs locally. URI Ventures, formerly the University of Rhode Island Research Foundation has started companies such as biomedical device maker CREmedical, which works with Bay Computer Associates and VR Industries to manufacture electronics used to detect and prevent epileptic seizures. Other local companies access equipment and facilities at URI and other institutions to study and test materials, work in nanotechnology and pharmaceuticals. More than 20 teams of URI engineering students have begun this year’s capstone projects to work on problems posed by local manufacturing industry sponsors. Universities are fertile places for existing companies to connect with new technologies to spur innovation and growth.
- State and federal programs. Rhode Island has several programs specifically targeted to assist manufacturing growth, including our Polaris MEP program. These programs all come with annual funds as well as initiatives aimed at a specific need. The R.I. Commerce Corporation recently won a $1.6 million Department of Defense grant with the goal of bringing Rhode Island’s design, engineering and manufacturing capabilities together to diversify product offerings and access new markets. Separately, CREmedical’s Walt Besio worked with the R.I. Science Technology Advisory Council and was awarded a Small Business Innovation Research Phase 2 grant to further develop its biomedical device products.
- Collaborative groups. I have never seen a state pull together to support a common manufacturing goal more than our current environment in Rhode Island. The Manufacturing Renaissance Collaborative (consisting of Polaris MEP, CommerceRI, RIMA and Bryant University’s John H. Chafee Center for International Business) has focused on linking Rhode Island manufacturers with information that can lead to growth. This has resulted in a powerful manufacturing database that allows companies to find local suppliers and grow a healthy local supply chain (found at ManufacturingRI.com). There also are state-backed and grass roots collaborations between groups that include the R.I. Small Business Development Center and theProcurement Technical Assistance Center.
These are the basic building blocks for sustained growth, and they all are in place in Rhode Island.
Upcoming chapters will look at:
- The educational-system influence.
- A flatter future.
- The maker-community influence.
- Military and defense-industry growth.
Christian Cowan is center director of Polaris MEP, the University of Rhode Island Research Foundation’s federally funded, statewide manufacturing business resource. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org (401) 270-8896, x413. This is the first in a six-part series on the Rhode Island manufacturing landscape.
Post also published on Providence Business News.