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Building a network to support next-generation manufacturing in Missouri

July 13, 2021 - The University of Missouri’s (UM) four campuses have a wide range of resources that can benefit the state’s manufacturers. Getting access to those resources, however, has long been a challenge, particularly for smaller manufacturers or those in more rural parts of the state. A new U.S. Department of Commerce effort offers Missouri manufacturers streamlined access to university expertise and resources.


With the help of local economic developers and partner organizations and the financial support of the US Economic Development Administration CARES Act funding, University of Missouri Extension has established the Consortium to Enhance Innovation, Resilience and Agility in Missouri’s Manufacturers (Consortium). Missouri manufacturers can participate in regional manufacturing Cohorts to receive information, education and individualized project assistance from university faculty and other industry experts to advance their businesses.


Cohorts will meet in regional in-person and virtual roundtables that bring university faculty and company owners and managers together to discuss such topics as automation, supply chain, workforce development, artificial intelligence, cyber security and more. A portion of the EDA award funding is available to support specific projects for individual companies with UM faculty and students serving as subject matter experts and facilitators.


The Consortium received more than $600,000 in EDA funding, which is being matched with $154,000 from the Missouri Department of Economic Development.


“This EDA investment will accelerate connections and collaboration between UM System researchers and Missouri manufacturers,” said Steve Devlin, Consortium project leader and director of Extension’s Business and Community program. “This timely support gives manufacturers and researchers a direct line to each other so they can work to enhance manufacturers’ competitiveness and resilience to withstand future disruptions.”


“The Economic Development Administration is proud to support the Consortium to Enhance Innovation, Resilience, and Agility in Missouri’s Manufacturers,” said Angela Belden Martinez, Director of EDA’s Denver Regional Office. “This project will strengthen the manufacturing industry in the state, creating workforce development programs and new opportunities for businesses to grow. We congratulate you on your vision and your dedication to this project.”


Devlin anticipates convening 10 to 20 roundtables every six to eight weeks in regions throughout the state, either working with existing roundtable efforts or initiating new ones where none now exist.


“We have no intention of duplicating existing efforts that support Missouri’s manufacturers,” Devlin said. “There are many fine organizations that provide assistance. Instead, we want to complement existing efforts to ensure that Missouri’s manufacturers have easy and facilitated access to UM resources.”

The Consortium’s regional roundtables will bring key nonprofits like Missouri Enterprise, research institutions and community and technical colleges together with manufacturers to share resources and help work through long-range plans. “We’ll also explore whether the roundtable format is a useful way to support manufacturing going forward,” Devlin said.


Of the nearly 6,000 manufacturers in Missouri, 5,462 have 50 or fewer employees, with nearly a third located in rural areas. Unlike manufacturing giants in the major urban centers, small and rural manufacturers typically lack easy access to university resources for product testing, research and development and faculty/student projects that could benefit their company.


“The Consortium can shift the conversation to ‘Who are the experts in the university system? What can we transition from the research realm into actual practice to help Missouri manufacturers? Who and what resources are there within our state that will help solve problems, train skilled workers, hire more people or expand production?’ This is the hope and possibility of this roundtable effort,” said Carolyn Chrisman, executive director of K-REDI, a local economic development organization in Kirksville, director of Kirksville’s Small Business Development Center and executive director of the Missouri Rural Enterprise and Innovation Center.


“It is a segment we definitely want to grow, and it becomes even more attractive as manufacturing moves away from the stereotypically grim plants of the past to the advanced high-tech operations of the future that need skilled labor and the programs that will train and prepare workers for those jobs,” said Kevin Truman, dean of UMKC’s School of Computing and Engineering and a member of the core Consortium grant team. “We need to get some level of manufacturing back to the United States to keep our supply chains healthy. We can’t be dependent on other countries for the products we need for our day-to-day operations.”


Devlin added, “The Consortium seeks to create the space and opportunity across Missouri for manufacturing professionals to learn from others and to share ideas and information across company boundaries. It’s a commitment from our land-grant institution to be that connector between the manufacturers and the university resources to identify and solve problems and grow Missouri manufacturing and our state’s economy.”


If you represent a company that would like to participate in the Consortium or if you are an economic development professional who might be interested in facilitating a Cohort in your area, call Steve Devlin at 573-882-6555 or send email to Devlinsl@missouri.edu.




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