LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The University of Louisville will use a $13 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce to develop a new statewide manufacturing resource center, working alongside companies to better optimize their efficiency and retention.

The Kentucky Manufacturing Extension Partnership (KMEP) is part of a nationwide network of 51 MEP centers led by the Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology outside Washington. Scott Broughton, who will lead the program and is director of manufacturing engagement in the Office of Research and Innovation, said he expects his MEP to exceed what's happening around the country. 

"Five years from today, I expect us to be sitting over here and say that we have been, through the University of Louisville personally responsible for 20 to 30% growth in the state," Broughton said. "I expect us to be the No. 1 MEP in the nation."

U of L said the goal will be to utilize the university's existing expertise to help manufacturers across Kentucky become more productive and create new jobs in emerging markets.

"The University of Louisville has such a vast and deep and broad expertise and assistance and support — friendships and partnerships — that made the move to the MEP program the University of Louisville truly a no-brainer ..." Broughton said.

In short, the KMEP will be a team of people that can help Kentucky's manufacturers improve their own processes. Broughton broke it down into three categories:

Operations:

  • "These are individuals going to come in and help the company reduce their operating costs. ... We have boots on the ground. Individuals are going to be going into those facilities and actually work with those teams, pulling, pushing, prodding, helping them making sure that it's getting met."

Business Development:

  • "This is anything about money coming through the door: project management, cybersecurity ... commercialization of ideas, marketing, branding, all those different things that are necessary to allow you to identify an opportunity and bring that into your fold."

Leadership and Workforce:

  • "The way that we tackle that is working with companies, making sure they have the right programs and systems in place to allow them to be the best of the best within the region. It's making sure that their culture is what it needs to be to help everybody grow personally as well as corporately."

The KMEP is based in downtown Louisville, but Brougton said employees are spread all cross the state. U of L estimates the KMEP will generate as much as $200 million per year in economic growth across the state.

Stuart Steinbock, who serves as the KMEP's board chair and whose family has had a manufacturing business in Louisville for more than 100 years, said U of L's existing intellectual infrastructure will be pivotal to the KMEP's success statewide.

"As university who's a Tier 1 research university, the technology that is created within the university that can then spread throughout the entire state is a gift that we didn't have previously," he said. "I expect to see a lot of the innovations coming out of here being able to flow into manufacturing ..."

In his own family's experience Steinbock said the KMEP — in its previous iteration in partnership with Western Kentucky University — brought a "wonderful methodology" for the long-term success of the company.

"If you don't continue to refresh the promises to your customer base and be able to identify the needs that they have, you'll just sort of slowly become irrelevant," he said.

Broughton said Tuesday that any time the KMEP is working with a manufacturer, there's an opportunity for student involvement at U of L.

"As far as I'm concerned, every interaction we have with a manufacturer should and can and hopefully will include student engagement in one shape or the other," he said. "Not just from university level students but across across the commonwealth."

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