SETAAC Awarded $1.2 Million Federal Commerce Grant

SETAAC serves eight southeastern states and helps manufacturers affected by foreign import trade better compete.

SETAAC serves eight southeastern states and helps manufacturers affected by foreign import trade better compete.

U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced $13 million in U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) grants to support 11 Trade Adjustment Assistance Centers (TAACs), including $1.2 million to the Southeastern Trade Adjustment Assistance Center (SETAAC) at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

SETAAC and the other 10 Trade Adjustment Assistance Centers help manufacturers affected by imports. The comprehensive assistance includes the development and implementation of projects to regain global competitiveness, expand markets, strengthen operations, and increase profitability. It also saves and/or creates new U.S. jobs.

“The Trump administration is committed to providing a level playing field for American manufacturers,” Ross said in a statement. “This program provides critical technical assistance to firms to help them develop and implement projects to regain global competitiveness, expand market share, and create jobs.”

The TAACs, which each service multiple states, are located in California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington. The announced grants are for the fifth year of a funding cycle running from 2016 to 2021.

In addition to Georgia, SETAAC’s service area includes the Carolinas, Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama. Created in 1974, SETAAC is an offering of Georgia Tech’s economic development arm, the Enterprise Innovation Institute.

For the 10 years between 2009 and 2019, SETAAC received more than $12.2 million in federal funding and served 250 clients across its service region.

Those companies reported increased sales $49.8 million and saving or creating nearly 2,000 jobs in that period.

Georgia Tech Economic Development Administration University Center awarded $300K Grant

Lynne Henkiel hedshot

Lynne Henkiel is director of Georgia Tech’s Economic Development Administration University Center. (Photo: Péralte C. Paul)

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) is awarding a $300,000 CARES Act Recovery Assistance grant to the Georgia Institute of Technology’s EDA University Center.

 

The grant will be used to boost the center’s capacity to support regional economic development strategies in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

 

“The Trump Administration is eager to allocate these essential CARES Act funds and deliver on our promise to help American communities recover from the impact of COVID-19,” said Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said in a statement. “I am proud of the perseverance and strength shown by our communities coast to coast throughout this pandemic, and these funds will help provide Georgia with the necessary resources to make a swift and lasting economic comeback.”

 

The CARES Act, signed into law by President Donald J. Trump, provides EDA with $1.5 billion for economic development assistance programs to help communities prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

 

EDA CARES Act Recovery Assistance, which is being administered under the authority of the bureau’s flexible Economic Adjustment Assistance (EAA) (PDF) program, provides a wide-range of financial assistance to eligible communities and regions as they respond to and recover from the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

 

EDA university centers marshal the resources found in colleges and universities to support regional economic development strategies in areas challenged with chronic and acute economic distress.

 

Tech was the first institution of higher learning to be designated an EDA University Center when the program was launched in the 1960s. It has been an EDA award recipient since inception — the only institute of higher learning with that distinction.

 

Tech’s EDA University Center, an offering of its economic development arm, the Enterprise Innovation Institute, will use the CARES Act funding to support three specific activities with businesses, communities, and entrepreneurs in Georgia:

 

  • Conduct, share, and disseminate applied research to address specific challenges or needs, or solve specific problems resulting from the economic impacts of coronavirus.
  • Provide technical assistance to entrepreneurs, businesses and communities to assist in their recovery efforts from the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Assist communities in identifying, defining, and supporting their workforce talent with the goal of helping communities recover from the economic impacts of coronavirus.

 

“We always incorporate new, innovative approaches in working with our clients,” said Georgia Tech EDA University Center Director Lynne Henkiel. “Georgia businesses and communities are all dealing with the effects that COVID-19 on their operations and local economies. This funding will help support our work and development of programs and training for business and community leaders to evaluate and reassess their activities to help them get back up and operating quickly.”

 

Among some of the services that Tech’s EDA University Center will offer under grant include business counseling, feasibility studies, and resilience plans, as well as skills development and workforce training, among other offerings.

 

“This investment comes at a crucial time to help Georgia’s and our nation’s economy come roaring back and provide hard-working Americans with new opportunities,” said Dana Gartzke, performing the delegated duties of the assistant secretary of commerce for economic development. “We are pleased to make this investment in Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute to respond to the coronavirus pandemic by assisting communities across Georgia develop short and long-term resilience plans with additional support for workforce development initiatives.”

 

In 2018, the most recent reporting data available, the EDA University Center at Georgia Tech worked with 13 clients and helped them save or create 57 jobs and secure more than $1.4 million in private and public sector investments.

Georgia Tech’s Economic Development Research Program Selects City of Woodbury for Revitalization Initiative

Three-month project to help city develop, plan short and long-term economic development goals for job growth, downtown revitalization.

 

Main Street, Woodbury, Georgia’s primary commercial strip. (Photo Credit: City of Woodbury)

The Economic Development Research Program (EDRP) at the Georgia Institute of Technology is working with Woodbury, a community in West Georgia’s Meriwether County, under an agreement to help a coalition of civic and business leaders develop a strategic assessment plan to guide the city’s economic development efforts.

 

The strategic assessment process includes an analysis of the community, starting with interviews with local and regional stakeholders. The completed assessment will also provide guidance on historic preservation as the city and local downtown development authority pursue redevelopment projects in some of Woodbury’s historic buildings in the central business district.

 

The project began in May 2020 and take three months to complete.

 

“The idea is by pursuing strategic redevelopment projects that make sense for Woodbury and leverage its assets, that will spur small business and job growth in downtown,” said Candace McKie, an EDRP project manager. “One of Woodbury’s strengths is that it is attractive to people seeking a slower pace of life in a community that offers the benefits akin to being in a big city.”

 

The assessment’s findings will help define Woodbury’s strengths and weaknesses and provide a preliminary vision to guide the city on attainable, effective actions to reach its short and long-term economic development goals. The strategic assessment will also aid Woodbury as it prepares its application for a Rural Zone designation by Georgia’s Department of Community Affairs.

 

Located in Meriwether County’s southeastern quadrant, Woodbury sits within the Three Rivers Regional Commission area, a 10-county body that provides a number of services, including aging programs, workforce development, transportation, and local/regional planning.

 

Woodbury — which is a little more than two square miles in area and home to about 900 residents —  is an hour’s drive south from Atlanta. Incorporated as a city in 1913, Woodbury’s downtown has a rich history. The community has statewide appeal, drawing tourists seeking rare antique finds, as well as outdoors enthusiasts who participate in waterfront recreational activities on the Flint River, located just a short trip to the east. Designated a “Broadband Ready” community by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA), the city recently installed 1G internet service throughout the downtown area.

 

Steve Ledbetter is mayor of Woodbury, Georgia. (Photo Credit: City of Woodbury)

Even with Woodbury’s cultural and natural amenities, local officials say the city is ripe for revitalization. That is why the city sought to capitalize on its historic assets and redevelop the downtown and submitted an application to the EDRP.

 

“Partnering with Georgia Tech to complete our Strategic Priorities Assessment for our community has highlighted our community’s sense of pride and ownership,” said Woodbury Mayor Steve Ledbetter.  Collectively, we can make a difference.  We can revive our downtown, bring new businesses into our community, and show our Georgia pride in Woodbury. We’re excited about this opportunity and look forward to implementing the plan developed through the EDRP program.”

 

Funded through a U.S. Economic Development Administration University Center grant, EDRP serves rural and economically distressed communities in Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, and Tennessee.

 

Powered by Georgia Tech’s Center for Economic Development Research (CEDR), EDRP leverages Tech’s assets to help communities engineer economic development success through affordable, in-depth research.

 

Communities that apply for a research grant have to commit local funds, based on ability to pay.  That local funding maximizes resources and ensures community involvement through all research project phases. Some recent EDRP studies include projects in Walker, Grady, and Liberty counties.

 

About the Economic Development Research Program (EDRP)
EDRP is Georgia Tech’s signature program for providing affordable economic development research and analysis capacity for communities that need it the most.  EDRP is funded through the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s University Center grant program (Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute is a designated EDA University Center).  EDRP is available to eligible communities across eight southeastern U.S. states. To learn more, visit cedr.gatech.edu/edrp.

Georgia Tech EDA University Center Study Leads to Federal Grant for Valdosta Business Incubator

Downtown Valdosta

Valdosta, Georgia.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced the department’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) awarded a $2.5 million grant to the Valdosta-Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce to fund the construction of a new business incubator in that South Georgia community. The EDA grant, to be located in a Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Opportunity Zone, will be matched with $1.7 million in local funds.

 

It is expected to help create up to 81 jobs and generate $9.7 million in private investment.

 

“The Trump Administration is committed to the resilience of local economies by encouraging companies to grow in designated opportunity zones,” Ross said in a statement. “I look forward to seeing how the new Valdosta Area Business Incubator will help a wide variety of businesses prosper in the region.”

 

The announcement follows a four-month analysis conducted by the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) University Center in 2015 and 2016.

 

Funded by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration, these university centers marshal the resources found in colleges and universities to support regional economic development strategies in areas facing chronic and acute economic distress.

 

The Valdosta-Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce contracted with Tech’s EDA University Center to conduct a community readiness assessment as the first step in pursuing its goal of a sustainable business incubation program. The chamber paid for a portion of the analysis and the Georgia Tech EDA University Center covered the remainder.

 

Business incubation provides entrepreneurs with an array of targeted business support resources and services in an effort to accelerate the successful development of startup companies.

 

But the development of a business incubation program requires a detailed plan of action that identifies the critical resources needed for success, provides a blueprint for its management, staffing, and how it will be funded and operated.

 

During the October 2015 – January 2016 timeframe, the Georgia Tech team conducted primary and secondary research to address three core areas of incubation strategy development: entrepreneurship and innovation, community and stakeholder support and resources and capabilities.

 

“We concluded that there was a demand and justification for a business incubation program and that the community should move forward with plans to develop it,” said Juli Golemi, senior project manager with Tech’s EDA University Center. “We provided the chamber with an analysis of the state of the ecosystem and identified several strategic initiatives for the organization to pursue to develop it.”

 

Golemi and her team identified 19 components, including strong and increasing entrepreneurial activity, existing infrastructure, academic institutions, and Moody Air Force Base, that made the idea a viable one.

 

The U.S. Commerce Department’s funding announcement covers a designated Opportunity Zone, as designated by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 to spur economic development by giving tax incentives to investors in economically-distressed communities nationwide.

 

The project was made possible by the regional planning efforts led by the Southern Georgia Regional Commission (SGRC). EDA funds the SGRC to bring together the public and private sectors to create an economic development roadmap to strengthen the regional economy, support private capital investment, and create jobs.

 

Georgia Tech has been an EDA award recipient since the program’s inception in the 1980s — the only institute of higher learning with that distinction.

 

Tech’s EDA University Center’s mission is to support and lead activities designed to promote job creation, the development of high-skilled regional talent pools, business expansion in innovation clusters, and to create and nurture regional economic ecosystems in Georgia. In addition, the center conducts technology-related economic and policy research that will enhance Georgia’s competitive position.

 

In fiscal year 2019, Tech’s EDA University Center’s work helped save or create 38 jobs and led to private sector investment of $5.8 million in Georgia.

 

The Georgia Tech EDA University Center is a program of the Enterprise Innovation Institute (EI2), which is Tech’s economic development and outreach arm.

Gov. Kemp taps Center for Economic Development Research director for coronavirus task force

Alfie Meek is an economist and director of the Center for Economic Development Research at Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute. (Photo: Jennifer Stalcup)

Looking to anticipate and blunt the effects of the COVID-19/coronavirus pandemic on Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp has convened a coronavirus task force that looks at the economic, health, emergency response and preparedness, and housing implications of the deadly disease.

 

The 66-member task force is comprised of four subcommittees, including one focused on economic impact. That subcommittee includes Alfie Meek, economist and director of the Enterprise Innovation Institute’s Center for Economic Development Research (CEDR) at Georgia Tech.

 

“The role of the Economic Impact Subcommittee is to help predict the economic effects on the state of Georgia from COVID19 and make recommendations,” Meek said. “We‘re also being asked to brainstorm policies that might be implemented to help ease the economic pain from this event.”

 

Meek has more than 25 years of experience in economic/fiscal impact analysis and community-based research. He leads the five-member CEDR staff, which works with its clients — economic developers, community leaders, and industry — to help them understand the opportunities and challenges in fostering local and regional economic development.

 

Meek is one of three economists selected to serve on the governor’s task force subcommittee. The others are Jeffrey Dorfman, the state fiscal economist who is the subcommittee chairman, and Thomas Cunningham the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s chief economist.

 

The full subcommittee met for the first time on March 19 in a virtual conference call.

 

“One clear goal is to represent the many different facets of Georgia’s economy that we think will be economically vulnerable at this time,” Meek said.

 

In addition to Dorfman, Cunningham, and Meek, the Economic Impact Subcommittee members include:

  • Allan Adams, State Director UGA Small Business Development Center
  • Nick Ayers, Managing Partner AFH Capital
  • Will Bentley, Georgia Agribusiness Council
  • Donna Bowman, Office of the State Treasurer
  • Labor Commissioner Mark Butler
  • Peter Carter, Delta Air Lines Chief Legal Officer (and Chair, Metro Chamber)
  • Bill Douglas, Athens First Bank & Trust
  • Georgia State Sen. Frank Ginn
  • Walter Kemmsies, economic consultant to Georgia Ports Authority
  • Steve McCoy, Chief Investment Officer, Office of the State Treasurer
  • Richard McPhail, Chief Financial Officer, Home Depot
  • Georgia House Rep. Clay Pirkle
  • Joe W. Rogers, III, Waffle House
  • Jessica Simmons, Department of Revenue Deputy Commissioner
  • Jim Sprouse, Executive Director Georgia Hotel and Lodging Association
  • Will Wade, Georgia Student Finance Commission

Delegates from Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership at Georgia Tech Meet with Congressional Leaders on Capitol Hill

Tim Israel, director of the Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership, in Washington, D.C. for the 2020 “Hill Day” at the U.S. Capitol.

The Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP) convened with members of the American Small Manufacturers Coalition (ASMC) during its annual “Hill Day” in Washington, D.C.

 

The two-day event, held on March 3 and 4, was an opportunity for ASMC members and their manufacturing clients to meet with their respective Congressional delegation and educate them about the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) program during the annual appropriations process.

 

The MEP National Network works with small and mid-sized U.S. manufacturers through designated MEP Centers, including the GaMEP at Georgia Tech. They are charged with assisting manufacturing clients to help them, to help create and retain jobs, increase profits, and promote innovation and growth for the future.

 

The intent behind Hill Day is to call attention to the importance of small and medium-sized manufacturers’ effect on rebuilding the economy.  By showcasing the achievements of this sector to elected officials, ASMC members are able to demonstrate a return on investment of the federal funding generated through the MEP program.

 

“As a part of the MEP National Network, the GaMEP works with manufacturers throughout the state offering solution-based approaches to increase top-line growth and reduce bottom-line cost,” said GaMEP Director Tim Israel. “We have a unique responsibility to boost Georgia’s economy by enhancing our clients’ competitiveness. I was excited to share these results with our congressional leaders so they can see our key successes this past year.”

 

In Georgia, the GaMEP worked with more than 700 manufacturers across the state to increase manufacturing sales by $317 million, reduce clients’ operating costs by $121 million, invest more than $159 million back into their plants, and create or retain 2,074 jobs.

 

As a program of the U.S. Department of Commerce, the MEP offers its clients resources centered on five critical areas: technology acceleration, supplier development, sustainability, workforce, and continuous improvement. In 2019, MEP generated a 14.4:1 return on investment, according to an Upjohn Institute for Employment Research study.

 

Nationally, in 2019, MEP clients reported $15.7 billion new and retained sales and the creation or retention of 114,650 jobs. Considering that the average U.S. manufacturing worker earns more than $87,185 in wages and benefits per year, MEP clients are economic drivers in their communities. MEP clients are also increasing their capacity for the production of goods. MEP clients reported $4.5 billion in new investments directly attributed to their work with MEP.

 

“The MEP National Network continues to significantly improve the productivity and competitiveness of America’s small and mid-sized manufacturers,” said Dave Boulay, ASMC board chairman and president of the Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Center.  “Hill Day provides us an opportunity to showcase those impacts to our congressional representatives and allow our clients to share their stories directly.”

 

About the Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP)
The Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP) is an economic development program of the Enterprise Innovation Institute at the Georgia Institute of Technology. The GaMEP is a member of the National MEP network supported by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. With offices in nine regions across the state, the GaMEP has been serving Georgia manufacturers since 1960. It offers a solution-based approach to manufacturers through coaching and education designed to increase top line growth and reduce bottom line cost. For more information, visit: gamep.org.

About the American Small Manufacturers Coalition (ASMC)
The American Small Manufacturers Coalition (ASMC) is a trade association of manufacturing extension centers that work to improve the innovation and productivity of America’s manufacturing community. ASMC advocates for legislative and programmatic resources that allow our small manufacturing clients to better compete in the global marketplace. The Coalition and its members do this by increasing awareness of the importance of American small manufacturers, the challenges which they face, and the federal legislation and programs that affect them. Learn more by visiting smallmanufacturers.org.

Safety, Health, and Environmental Services team discusses workplace safety at Georgia Capitol

From left: Bob Hendry, SHES research scientist and treasurer of the AIHA’s Georgia chapter; Jenny Houlroyd, SHES senior research scientist; Hilarie Warren, SHES senior research scientist and AIHA Georgia chapter president; Gov. Brian Kemp; and Georgia AIHA members John Moore, Stacey Brooks, and Kerry Ann Jaggassar.

The Safety, Health, and Environmental Services (SHES) group at Georgia Tech met with Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, and key Georgia legislators at the Capitol to highlight efforts in workplace safety and other issues related to health at places of employment.

 

The Feb. 18 breakfast “meet and greet” included state Sen. John Albers (R-Alpharetta), chairman of the public safety committee; Sen. Frank Ginn (R-Athens), chairman of its economic development committee, and state Rep. Wes Cantrell (R-Woodstock), chairman of the Georgia House Small Business Development Committee, among others.

 

A program of Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, SHES provides broad range of occupational safety and health training, consulting services, and academic education to organizations in Georgia and across the Southeast.

 

“These meetings and talks with our state leaders was a great opportunity to speak with key legislators and committee chairs about the importance of promoting health and safety policies and programs that protect employees in their workplaces in our state,” said Hilarie S. Warren, SHES’ senior  research scientist and industrial hygienist.

Hilarie Warren (far right), SHES senior research scientist and AIHA Georgia chapter president, speaks with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (center) about health and safety issues and initiatives in Georgia.

 

Warren, is president of the Georgia Local Section of American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), which facilitated the meetings at the Gold Dome.

 

For example, Jenny Houlroyd, SHES’ occupational health group manager, updated legislators on her work with the Sustainable Workforce Alliance. That project is focused on giving the tools and training and access to training resources to help protect the health and safety of youth workers and educators in career/technical education programs throughout Georgia.

 

The Sustainable Workforce Alliance aims to highlight and address exposure risks of youth workers to prevalent hazards in the construction and general industries. The initiative also provides an understanding of worker’s rights and employers’ responsibilities under the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

 

Warren said they also highlighted Atlanta serving as host to the national organization’s three-day conference that starts June 1, 2020.

 

 

I-Corps South trains Irish researchers in entrepreneurship workshop

I-Corps South Program Manager Melissa Heffner leads a customer discovery workshop with a group of Irish researchers and entrepreneurs. (Photo by: Sara Henderson)

I-Corps South program team members recently traveled to the Republic of Ireland as part of a two-day training curriculum to prepare 24 Irish teams for a year-long program focused on supporting ideas and technologies that address societal challenges.

 

Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) invited the I-Corps South team to Dublin to explain how to develop a mission model and how to engage in meaningful and objective customer discovery. It’s the second consecutive year that SFI has invited the I-Corps South staff to lead this workshop.

 

A program of the Enterprise Innovation Institute, Georgia Tech’s economic development arm, I-Corps South is a node of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Innovation Corps initiative.

 

The NSF’s I-Corps program — a boot camp that shows what it’s like to form a startup — helps NSF-funded researchers learn how to commercialize their findings and determine if a market actually exists for what they developed.

 

I-Corps South provides evidence-based entrepreneurship education and support to commercialize startups, as well as training, resources, and an active network to regional research universities across the Southeast and the U.S. island territory of Puerto Rico.

 

“SFI is currently working to build out its evidenced-based entrepreneurship programming,” said Sara Henderson, I-Corps South program designer. “They are basing their programs on the lean startup methodology and sought out our team to help them train their teams, given our experience in teaching the methodology to students and faculty across the Southeast and at NSF I-Corps Teams Cohorts.”

 

I-Corps South Executive Director Keith McGreggor explains the loss aversion bias theory and how it applies to entrepreneurs. (Photo by: Sara Henderson)

The I-Corps South team — Executive Director Keith McGreggor, Program Manager Melissa Heffner, and Henderson — worked with the Irish teams, which were all focused on various aspects of artificial intelligence (AI) or zero emissions for societal good.

 

Among some of the project ideas:

  • AI for fetal wellbeing
  • Non-surgical treatment for lung cancer using AI
  • Creating a carbon-neutral resilient dairy farm
  • Hybrid bio-solar reactors for wastewater treatment and carbon dioxide recycling

 

“It was a great experience and the teams were all focused on projects that have potential to effect positive societal change,” Henderson said.

 

In addition to the Mission Model Canvas and stakeholder discovery training they received from I-Corps South, the Irish teams also received coaching on the Theory of Change from Social Innovation Fund Ireland.

 

Sara Henderson, I-Corps South program designer, discusses the service blueprint methodology, a model for using operational efficiency to diagnose problems. (Photo by: Melissa Heffner)

“Several of the teams will be filtered out at the end of March after the first phase of the program, which is focused on them conducting rapid stakeholder and beneficiary research,” Henderson said. “The remaining teams will advance to the next phase and will support their projects with additional research and work on their solutions through the end of 2020.”

 

SFI and NSF have an agreement in place allowing SFI to send teams to the I-Corps Teams program.

 

In the last couple of years, SFI has leveraged Georgia Tech for I-Corps training for their teams and Tech has led similar sessions for the Centers for Disease Control. The government of Mexico in 2018, through its National Council on Science and Technology (CONACYT), sent more than a dozen university-based instructors to Tech to learn the fundamentals of entrepreneurship and how to build and maintain such programs at their schools.

For the state’s food manufacturers, a Georgia Tech partnership is the secret ingredient to growth

Just add engineers to the mix.

 

Damon Nix inside the facilities of Project Open Hand, which prepares and delivers 4,500 freshly meals a day to seniors and people with chronic diseases. GaMEP helped the nonprofit reduce the time it takes to find and prep a meal in their cooler from 45 minutes to 1 minute.

By Michael Baxter

You would expect a building where vinegar is made to have a sour smell, highly pungent, perhaps with a whiff of apple. World Technology Ingredients (WTI) smells nothing like this. Their manufacturing facility, off a county two-lane in Jefferson, Georgia, has a vaguely mineral aroma. More dry than dank, and not altogether unpleasant.

 

Maybe that’s because the vinegar made here isn’t destined for grocery store shelves, but for food preservation. It’s called buffered vinegar, an all-natural additive that protects meats and other products from microbes. WTI makes a lot of this vinegar, more than they used to in fact, and that’s partly because of Damon Nix.

 

On this Friday afternoon, Nix is taking a visitor through WTI’s plant, pointing out its sectors and stations. Here’s the wet vinegar, seven titanic tanks and even more smaller ones, emitting a hiss-and-motor chorus of mechanized blending. Over here’s the powdered version, mixed in towering contraptions on chalky floors (that will later be cleaned), then heated, blended and bagged.

 

Nix stops at a white board with dry-erase markings that tell another story of what’s going on inside the plant — one of continuous improvement. Sketched out are five days of the work week, four areas of focus (safety, performance, schedule, issues) and an assortment of metrics. One of WTI’s workers happens by, and after glancing at the white board, Nix congratulates him.

 

“I think y’all are doing great,” he says. “These are good numbers.”

 

Nix doesn’t work for WTI. He’s an industry manager for the Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership, or GaMEP, a Georgia Tech-based, engineering-centric program that helps small and mid-sized manufacturing companies in the state perform better. As the partnership’s food and beverage point person, Nix applies his industrial engineering education from Tech to help manufacturers up their game and lower their costs.

 

“What I really do is facilitate problem solving,” says Nix (B.S., ISyE, ’01). He is careful to emphasize the facilitation part. He doesn’t arrive as the dreaded efficiency expert, handing down mandates and new processes to those on the floor. Rather, he operates as the quintessential engineer — conducting research, listening to people, and fostering ownership of change. When he introduces new knowledge, such as time-tested principles of lean manufacturing and quality control, it’s more as a coach guiding a player who’s motivated to improve.

 

“In organizations that really succeed, teams are empowered by top management,” he says. “The team has to own the process. I could go to a meeting and offer a bunch of ideas, but half of them wouldn’t be nearly as good as what people inside the company put forward and act on.”

 

Rise of an engineering partnership

 

Georgia Tech has been in the game of helping small and mid-sized manufacturers for a long time. A century ago, the idea of creating an engineering counterpart to America’s agricultural experiment stations was being debated in Congress. But the Georgia General Assembly didn’t wait for the debate to conclude — it voted in 1919 to launch an “engineering experiment station” (EES) at Georgia Tech.

 

Curiously, lawmakers didn’t fund the new enterprise. It wasn’t until 1934, midway through the Great Depression, that EES got its first state allocation of $5,000 and was assigned an acting director, Harry Vaughn, who described the experiment station as “Georgia’s first agency designed to aid in a comprehensive development of industry.”

 

In 1960, the General Assembly ratcheted up Georgia Tech’s assistance to industry, passing a bill to form an Industrial Extension Service as part of the earlier EES. That authorized Georgia Tech to create field offices around the state to provide “technical advice and assistance to local development groups and to establish(ed) business and industry.” The new service was the forerunner of today’s GaMEP. The partnership sharpened its focus on manufacturing in 1988 after Congress passed a national program, the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership. The Industrial Extension Service was later designated GaMEP as one of 70 MEP affiliates. (EES, by the way, later became GTRI, the Georgia Tech Research Institute.)

 

GaMEP, which turns 60 next year, is today housed inside Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute — a good fit, given its economic development focus. With 10 offices throughout Georgia, it now has a solid track record of helping small and mid-sized manufacturers grow. One of these is Dalton-based Precision Products, which manufactures a wide range of parts to order and has achieve two crucial ISO certifications that opened the door to new customers and industries. Sales grew by more than $3.5 million. And Goldens’ Foundry and Machine Co., a 130-year-old enterprise, wanted to strengthen employee communication and problem solving. GaMEP helped them introduce a management system designed to bring company conversations to the plant floor and improve information flow.

 

Packaging insight into food processing

 

One area historically underserved by GaMEP is the food and beverage industry. “It’s the state’s top manufacturing sector,” Nix says, “yet it had not been our number one customer.” So, in 2016, he was assigned to develop an initiative to broaden and deepen partnerships with businesses in the industry.

 

Driving much of the food and beverage industry’s growth in Georgia are companies of 50 or fewer employees. These are the makers of local craft beers, hometown jellies and artisan mustards. Nix says about eight of 10 food processing companies fit that size profile, though they are dwarfed in sales by the other 20 percent, the larger manufacturers.

 

So he developed a market analysis and concluded that super-sizing a commitment to food and beverage would be a good fit. The demand was there, too. Food processing employs nearly 70,000 Georgians and accounts for $12 billion of the state’s GDP every year, according to a 2016 report from Georgia Power. Since GaMEP stepped up efforts to serve the industry in 2017, the average number of projects with food and beverage companies more than doubled, from 20 to 45.

 

When asked to describe the greatest problems facing these manufacturers, Nix quickly cites compliance with safety regulations, which, to a small food business, run from complex to bewildering. “If you’re in a business of 10 to 20 people, you may not have a food scientist on staff,” he says. “So, you’ve got to figure out compliance on your own, or else bring in consultants.”

 

Safety, he notes, is more than just following protocols in production. It involves attending to details in reporting and paperwork, all the way down to the product label. Nix shares the cautionary tale of an Oregon maker of seasonings that neglected to include hazelnuts in its list of ingredients on the label. “Of course, nut allergies are a huge issue,” he says. “That one mistake could have ruined their entire product distribution. The damage to the brand, and the cost of bringing back the brand, is so significant.”

 

While GaMEP knew it could help food companies in an array of ways — from process management to energy usage to business growth — leaders found they had a gap in food science expertise. Food science determines the safety profile of every jar, tin, box and bag of product. So they brought in a food manufacturing safety whiz, Wendy White, who had experience overseeing a portfolio of food products. White is now leading a new GaMEP program on safety, funded by a three-year grant totaling nearly $1 million.

 

For the ingredients company WTI, the primary challenge has not been safety but improving processes and efficiency. When asked what impact he’s seen from GaMEP’s help, Stephan Georg, the company’s director of strategic sourcing, recounts a conversation between a shift foreman and consultant in front of one of the Gemba white boards.

 

“The foreman said the plan was to make two batches of a product,” Georg says, “but the consultant answered, ‘Well, I think you can do five batches. The foreman thought that was unrealistic. So we brought in Georgia Tech, and the first thing Damon does is conduct time studies. It gave us that baseline information we needed. After that groundwork, we determined that three batches would be a good goal.”

 

Since then, Nix has visited with workers from WTI’s round-the-clock shifts and consulted with management. Together, they work through improvements born out of lean manufacturing, which are processes engineered to reduce waste and improve customer satisfaction. The goal is to reach 40 percent overall equipment effectiveness for producing buffered vinegar, a metric built on several components of the manufacturing process.

 

More recently, Nix introduced a new tool to these efforts: A software platform called Impruver, developed out of Georgia Tech’s Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC). It’s designed to help small and mid-sized manufacturers of consumer products spot trends in metrics, track performance and monitor ongoing issues. “It’s great to have another entity inside ATDC working with us and our clients,” Nix says.

 

While all of GaMEP’s contributions are welcomed, Stephan Georg has special praise for the non-engineering side of Damon Nix. “While he looks at the facts and explains things in a scientific way, he also treats people here with respect,” Georg says. “They see that he’s not here to get them fired. He’s the guy who’s here to help.”

Innovation Ecosystems Gives Presentation on Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Peru’s Semana Internacional del Emprendimiento

Mónica Novoa, an Innovation Ecosystems program manager, gives a presentation to attendees of the Semana Internacional del Emprendimiento at the Universidad del Pacífico in Lima, Peru.

During the week of Nov. 11-15, I had the honor of participating in the 10th edition of Semana Internacional del Emprendimiento at Universidad del Pacífico in Lima, Perú. As program manager of the Innovation Ecosystems program at the Georgia Institute of Technology, I was invited by Emprende UP, the Universidad del Pacífico’s business innovation and incubation center, to give a presentation about our collaboration on a project of capacity building and strengthening of the incubator’s programs and staff.

 

I also had the opportunity to speak about the innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem in Atlanta and at Georgia Tech. The audience included Peruvian government officials, academic and private sector leaders, faculty, students, and entrepreneurs from the country’s leading universities.

 

We have been collaborating with Emprende UP since November 2016 on a project funded by Innóvate Perú under the National Contest for the Strengthening of Business Incubators. Under this project, our goal with Emprende UP was to create a framework of knowledge transfer and best practices in business incubation and acceleration to the Emprende UP staff.

 

Mónica Novoa (third from left), stands with Universidad del Pacífico officials.

In total, we completed three main tasks — an evaluation of the incubator’s programs and operations, an immersion program in innovation and business incubation at Georgia Tech, and a strategic capacity building workshop in Lima, on key topics around business incubation and technology transfer, with particular emphasis on the financial technology (FinTech) industry.

 

As a result of this project, the Emprende UP team strengthened its knowledge and expertise in entrepreneurship methods like Customer Discovery, Lean Startup, and Design Thinking. The team also incorporated these concepts to its incubation and acceleration programs.

 

In addition, we validated Emprende UP’s programs structure and its operations model based on a benchmarking against our sister program at Georgia Tech, the Advance Technology Development Center (ATDC), and a leading university incubator in Chile.

 

Emprende UP is one of 21 incubators that have received funds from Innóvate Perú and is consistently recognized as one of that nation’s leading organizations in the entrepreneurship ecosystem. Through this collaboration, we successfully transferred new knowledge and tools to the Emprende UP team so it can further provide the valuable startup incubation programs and services for which it is known.

 

It was an intense, vibrant week packed with outstanding presentations and meetings. I met amazing people and learned a lot about the innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem in Lima and Perú, and returned to Georgia Tech energized and very optimistic about the future of entrepreneurship in Perú.