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Up Close | with Kevin Carr of FloridaMakes

By: Jack Roth

FloridaMakes is the state of Florida affiliate of the nationwide National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Hollings Manufacturing Extension Program (NIST MEP). This nonprofit, industry-led public-private partnership was created by manufacturers, for manufacturers, and is having a profound impact on a critical business sector. Kevin Carr, CEO, understands the unique needs facing manufacturers — and that real-world insight is powering the nonprofit’s strategies to strengthen Florida’s manufacturing sector.

Manufacturing in the Blood

I was always fascinated by how things were made. My father had a remanufacturing company for electrical and mechanical automotive parts, so I grew up in a tear-down and reassembly environment.

After receiving an engineering degree, I started my career at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. I transitioned with the Navy into positions dealing with advanced manufacturing research, best manufacturing practices and managing a research group focused on circuit card assembly and production. I had the opportunity to see top production facilities such as Boeing, Lockheed, Harris, Northrup Grumman and Raytheon. I also learned the critical role played by America’s small and medium-sized manufacturers.

Those experiences led me to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)’s experimental initiative: creating technical centers to help small and medium-sized manufacturers adopt advanced technologies. That experiment became today’s NIST Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP). As the first director of MEP, I led the program as it evolved from seven centers into a fully integrated national system serving manufacturers in all 50 states and Puerto Rico, and a model federal-state-industry partnership, recognized for its high impact on business development, innovation and job creation.

I left in 2005 to transition to the private sector, consulting on technology-based economic development. In that capacity, I worked with Florida-based manufacturing associations to develop a proposal for a new MEP center. That proposal was competitively selected by NIST in 2015 and became FloridaMakes, awarded $3.5 million a year for 10 years, to be matched by state and local industry sources.

Florida’s Manufacturing Landscape

Currently there are more than 20,000 manufacturers in the state that employ over 360,000 people with an average wage of $57,000. However, 80 percent of these manufacturers employ 20 or fewer employees. When a customer has new requirements — becoming ISO certified, adopting a new technology, lowering costs — it can throw a wrench for companies lacking the bandwidth or in-house capabilities of larger manufacturers. Likewise, a company with a unique growth opportunity may need support to expand its manufacturing processes. 

Over the years, we’ve disconnected manufacturing from an “American” thing to do. We need parents, students and schools to understand manufacturing’s lucrative and diverse careers. During National Manufacturing Month each October, many companies offer plant tours, showcasing manufacturing innovation and opportunities, such as machinist, craftsperson, engineer, programmer and more.

With assistance from regional manufacturers associations and partners, we also hold industry focus groups to identify skills needed to support manufacturing growth. We worked with CareerSource Florida on this effort, to inform state and regional investment and strategies for industry training and talent development.

The key is being proactive to what’s coming down the road. We need to offer specific training and continuing education so people can evolve into these sector jobs. This is the deciding factor in whether or not manufacturing continues to grow and prosper here.

Achieving Measurable Impact

We measure what we do by whether we can help retain or increase sales, increase cost savings, preserve capital investment, etc. To date, 55 Florida manufacturers reported economic results of more than $86 million from the services we’ve provided, and they also retained or added a total of 884 manufacturing jobs as a direct result of our efforts. These results are powerful because they are reported directly by companies.

Strengthening our manufacturing base has a multiplier effect for Florida’s economy. That’s because, according to the Manufacturing Alliance for Productivity and Innovation, every dollar invested in manufactured goods creates another $3.60 in other sectors. Our goal is to accelerate that impact, supporting the creation of high-value products and high-wage career opportunities for this generation of Floridians and the next. 

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About the author

Jack Roth

A veteran journalist and author, Jack Roth is managing editor of i4 Business magazine. Jack has been writing about Central Florida business, technology and economic development for more than 20 years.

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