Guest Blog by Sarah Lee, Principal Economic Development Manager, Puget Sound Regional Council
Washington State brought in $7 million in IMCP-aligned federal agency funds just months after receiving one of the “manufacturing community” designations from the U.S. Department of Commerce. That’s a pretty shining endorsement of the Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership (IMCP) program, right? But the truth is Washington State began reaping the benefits of the program even before we submitted our application. The value of this program is about even more than funding.
Our IMCP application was based on the Washington Aerospace Strategy, already developed by the Governor’s Office of Aerospace and the Washington Aerospace Partnership, so we had a head start. The application process pushed us to dig deeper, to prioritize projects and firm up commitments. We reached out to more stakeholders than we had before, which meant we uncovered great programs and projects and discovered partners we didn’t even know we had.
For example, we hadn’t fully explored what our local Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) could do for us. MEP is a National Institute of Standards and Technology program that helps small and medium manufacturers create and retain jobs, increase profits, and save time and money. With a median size of 98 employees, our state’s aerospace suppliers definitely qualify for MEP programs. As a result, two of the six catalytic investments outlined in our IMCP plan are projects developed in partnership with our MEP. We have already secured funds for one of those projects, and the MEP relationship continues to open new doors.
Some of our new partners aren’t even from our state – they are the other IMCP designees nationwide, who have banded together to share ideas, resources, and best practices. Through regular meetings, the IMCP regions have been able to support each other by sharing curricula vetted by industry, comparing data sources, tracking strategies, and brainstorming ways to address the needs of the national manufacturing community. We made those connections thanks to the IMCP Summit held by EDA and Commerce several months ago.
One more thing. The IMCP program was designed to “revolutionize the way federal agencies leverage economic development funds.” That's a pretty tall order. But, one of the ways that’s happening is through a group of extremely talented and committed federal agency and White House staffers who are teaching IMCP regions how to navigate federal funding opportunities and resources. The value of having someone in the federal government who has read your strategy and will pick up the phone to give you honest feedback and solid advice is priceless.
There is no guarantee that regions who apply will receive the IMCP designation, and no guarantee that if you do, your projects will get federal funding. But if applying for this designation forces you to reassess your region’s economic needs, fine-tune your strategies, develop new programs, and make new partnerships, it will be well worth the time.