Grant for NH manufacturers seeks to strengthen domestic supply chain

Funding to encourage smaller and medium-sized firms to work seek work with local partners
Zenagui Brahim Speaking
Zenagui Brahim is president of the NH Manufacturing Extension Partnership, which will administer the $400,000 grant.

A federal grant of $400,000 is directed to New Hampshire manufacturers to help them build a supply chain that relies more on local and national suppliers and less on foreigners companies.

The grant will be administered by the NH Manufacturing Extension Partnership (NHMEP), which its president, Zenagui Brahim, described as a nonprofit organization with a mandate “to work with small and medium-sized manufacturers that need assistance in any way. The purpose behind that is to keep businesses here and to keep jobs in the United States.”

The funding comes from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce that helps businesses – especially those with Department of Defense contracts – better understand, manage, and reduce their cybersecurity risk and protect their networks and data.

The grant was announced in May jointly by the state’s congressional delegation: U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas and U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, all Democrats.

In a joint statement, they said the money will help New Hampshire’s small and medium-sized manufacturers fully participate in the MEP National Network National Supply Chain Optimization and Intelligence Network.

NIST says the money in this new program “will comprehensively support supplier scouting services, rigorously assess and analyze domestic manufacturing capabilities, expand knowledge of each MEP Center’s local manufacturing ecosystems to stimulate the growth of the U.S. supply base which thereby strengthens the nation’s manufacturer resilience.”

Delegation members said the grant will help strengthen the local economy by giving manufacturers resources to create new products and expand payroll.

“MEPs empower our entrepreneurs with the resources and backing they need to develop innovative products and good-paying jobs in our communities. This federal award is an important example of how national bills and priorities can have a local impact,” said Shaheen.

Hassan said she was part of the legislative initiative to create the supply chain optimization program and provide its funding.

She said the funding to New Hampshire would provide the NHMEP “with additional resources to strengthen our supply chains and help small and mid-sized businesses in New Hampshire thrive.”

NIST started the MEP program in 1998 to include all 50 states and Puerto Rico as a public-private partnership working with local manufacturers to develop new products and customers, expand and diversify markets, adopt new technology, and enhance value within supply chains.

The local ‘preference’

Brahim has been president of the Granite State’s MEP for some 20 years.

In the last five, according to NHMEP, it helped create 484 jobs while retaining another 1,716 that otherwise would have been lost. It said it helped increase and retain $371 million in sales and contribute $156 million in additional tax and non-tax revenues at the federal, state, and local government levels, including $60.2 million at the state and local level.

Brahim said the MEP helps manufacturers deal with a broad range of issues, from supply chain to cybersecurity, from workforce recruitment to skills training. It also runs and participates in forums.

For example, Brahim led two panel discussions in May for the city of Rochester on workforce challenges facing New Hampshire manufacturers firms.

One New Hampshire company with MEP experience, particularly with NIST, is Tech Resources Inc. in Milton.

“Being a DoD contractor, we keep our services within the U.S., and we internally try to keep it local for various reasons,” said Tech Resources CEO Mary Thomas. “There’s some preference to keep things local, to help support the community. But in addition to that, it’s obviously sometimes easier to work with local companies. MEP can give us that awareness of who might be around and who can help us with some services.”

Tech Resources, with 19 employees, designs, manufactures and repairs electronic warfare test equipment. Specifically, it provides a method for end-to-end testing of sophisticated avionic systems in military aircraft.

NIST requirements for security are important to their work, according to Thomas, and in 2019 with a new round of security protocols, the company used MEP grants and the collaboration of Mainstay Technologies in Manchester to meet the new requirements.

“I think phase one was around $5,000 and phase two was about $8,000. Those are real numbers for a small company,” said Thomas. “But having executed on that activity positioned (Tech Resources) to not only meet these NIST requirements, but we will earnestly tell you – and Mainstay themselves will argue this – we were ahead of the game. And we still feel like we’re ahead of the curve.”

She added, “We still feel like, as a result of that one grant, it’s well-positioned us to be very reactive towards the updates, the changes in the requirements and even still working ourselves through all these NIST requirements. So we are truly grateful for what that grant provided for us.”

The new grant that incorporates supply chain networks is an important next step, according to Thomas.

“When we go to solicit a supplier, we have to say: ‘Hey, you have to meet NIST.’ So you’re looking at the next tier who likely needs assistance, guidance and funding to position their company,” said Thomas. “A lot of times it’s positioning their IT infrastructure to meet specified security requirements. If you want to send drawings or contract specific requirements to them, they have to be able to receive them on a secure server that will be protected and will prevent our adversaries from getting access to it.”

The Covid-19 pandemic greatly disrupted supply chain networks, especially from foreign entities supplying domestic manufacturers. Grants such as this new one from NIST will help keep the supply network within the U.S., according to the congressional delegation.

“For our national security and economy, it’s critical we strengthen American manufacturing,” said Pappas. “This funding will help small and medium-sized New Hampshire manufacturers who participate in the Manufacturing Extension Partnership National Network thrive, create good-paying jobs in New Hampshire, and strengthen our supply chains.”

Added Kuster: “New Hampshire manufacturers create critical resources and products that power our economy and move our country forward. I’m thrilled to see this funding from the National Institute of Standards and Technology heading to our state to bolster this important industry and help local businesses continue to grow, innovate and thrive.”

Categories: Government, Manufacturing, News