Md. urged to help pay for cooperative effort

October 07, 1992|By Ross Hetrick | Ross Hetrick,Staff Writer

Supporters of "flexible manufacturing" called on state government yesterday to put up money to make the new form of cooperative business a reality in Maryland.

"I think the state needs to put the carrot out there," said Lester M. Salamon, director of the Johns Hopkins University Institute for Policy Studies. But a state economic development official said such a carrot might be too expensive for the state now.

The request for state involvement came as the institute released a study on how flexible manufacturing could boost the Baltimore machining industry.

Flexible manufacturing, also called networking, centers on a group of small businesses working together, often with government assistance, to tackle such common issues as marketing and training.

Supporters of the concept have pointed to the success of businesses in the Emilia-Romagna region of central Italy, where the regional government has created service centers to assist small companies.

Since a Hopkins-sponsored conference on flexible manufacturing three years ago, there have been some attempts at cooperative efforts in various industries, but no large-scale effort.

The $50,000 study released yesterday, done by R. Scott Fosler and Kaveh Ehsani, said the Maryland machining industry, which makes the tools used by other companies, could benefit by cooperating on training, marketing and the selection of new technology. Companies could also complement each other by subcontracting tasks to each other.

The proposal for flexible manufacturing comes as the Maryland machining industry is being hit by cuts in defense.

The industry's one initiative in networking, an effort at cooperative training, has suffered because of the economic downturn.

The number of companies involved in the program has dropped to five from eight over the past year and a half, according to J. Alexander Doyle, president of Precision Machined Products and vice president of the Foundation for Manufacturing Excellence.

Mr. Doyle said the machining industry could develop a networking proposal on its own, but an incentive grant of $100,000 to $300,000 from the government would help.

But Audrey S. Theis, assistant secretary of business resources in the state's Department of Economic and Employment Development (DEED), said the money probably would not be coming any time soon. "It's very tight right now," she said.

DEED has supported networking among businesses through its six regional technology councils, which promote the exchange of information between member companies. But even this effort had its $750,000 annual budget reduced by $150,000 during the last round of budget cuts, she said.

However, she said, the issue of flexible manufacturing and networking will be studied by a task force on Maryland industry.

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