Given the country’s tight fiscal times, the loss of a line item here or there is unlikely to stall passage of this year’s federal budget, expected to be voted on Monday in the House. But one such cut may bring untold harm to the nation’s estimated 350,000 small manufacturers, including bakeries, print shops and garment makers already struggling to survive in New York.
Members of Congress have proposed axing 66 percent from the Market Extension Program (MEP), a federal initiative designed to boost economic growth by helping small manufacturers access consultants at discounted prices.
“The hardest hit will be the companies not working with us, the ones that need us tomorrow,” said Sara Garretson, president of the city’s Industrial and Technology Assistance Corporation, a group that receives $1.4 million in MEP funding annually. Garretson fears her staff members, who assist and outsource experts providing architectural and engineering assistance, web design, sales and human resource support, will be forced to raise their fees. ITAC’s current rate is $125 an hour, Garretson said, compared to private groups which can charge as much as $350-400. ITAC might also have to slash complimentary services, such as educational and outreach programs to the city’s estimated 10,000 small manufacturers, which typically employ less than 20 workers.
Calls to the U.S. Department of Commerce, which administers the MEP program, were not returned.
In 1989, looking to compete with cheaper goods and labor abroad, the Department of Commerce launched a trial MEP program in three states–New York, South Carolina and Ohio—looking to offer small manufactures discounted consultants to help them compete with foreign companies and safeguard jobs.
ITAC has been invaluable to Bob Friedman, chief officer at NULUX, a Brooklyn-based company that offers specialty lighting for cultural meccas like the Museum of Modern Art and other high-end clients. Without ITAC’s accounting and organizational help, Friedman said, the shop might have been forced to downsize. “We need these people,” he said. “We know how to make lights, not how to do all these other things.”
When George W. Bush was running for office, Friedman said, the president vowed to support the country’s small manufacturing base and encourage local entrepreneurship. Cutting MEP does the opposite, Friedman said. “It’s terrible. First, the mommies and daddies are told, ‘be independent,’ ‘innovate,’ and now it seems like they’re starting to turn against us.”