Advancing manufacturing: New state initiatives discussed at BCC

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PITTSFIELD — A state-funded, cutting edge manufacturing program is making its way across the state and is targeting the Berkshires for growth.

Two directors of advanced manufacturing programs at the MassTech Innovation Institute provided an overview of the agency's Manufacturing Innovation Initiative, also known as M2I2, on Tuesday at Berkshire Community College.

The innovation initiative is a capital grants program that provides capital cost shares for projects and discovery centers throughout the state, and is aligned with the federal government's Manufacturing USA program. M2I2 is overseen by the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative and the Executive Officer of Housing and Economic Development.

"We would be very interested in talking to anybody who is interested in putting together a project in the Berkshires," said Ira Moskowitz, director of advanced manufacturing program at the MassTech Innovation Institute.

Before a small group of interested participants, Farhad Vazehgoo, senior manager of advanced technology programs at the MassTech Collaborative, described the types of funding and grants that are available through the M2I2 program and its relationship with Manufacturing USA, a network of 15 regional institutions that is focused on specialized technology.

M2I2 is committed to advancing Manufacturing USA's agenda throughout Massachusetts, Moskowitz said. In 2017, the Baker-Polito Administration provided more than $100 million in funding to the program over a five-year span to invest in Manufacturing USA and advance innovation and job growth through cross collaborations among companies, universities, national laboratories, government entities, incubators, accelerators and other academic/training institutions like vocational schools. The funding supports research and development infrastructure in advanced manufacturing sectors such as advanced functional fabrics, integrated photonics and robotics, according to the state.

The M2I2 program works with applicants from the earliest concept stages to development, Moskowitz said. But "each grant needs to have an investment and a university partner," he added. "We believe in promoting the intersections between technologies."

CRITERIA MUST BE MET

Massachusetts is the only state in the country that has developed collaborations with three of Manufacturing USA's 15 regional institutions, he added.

Projects eligible for loans must meet the majority of the program's nine qualifying points. With so many advanced manufacturing firms located in the Berkshires, Moskowitz stressed the final qualifying point, projects that impact other regions of the state beyond Greater Boston, to those in attendance.

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"Berkshire would be a great place to do some of this work," Moskowitz said.

Although applicants don't have to meet every qualifying point to be eligible for funding, the bar is still set pretty high.

"Eighty to 90 percent of the applications are sent back with ideas for improvements," Moskowitz said.

The state is currently developing a series of Learning Employment and Asset [LEAP] centers across the state to develop some of these high-tech innovation projects, Vazehgoo said. The closest center to the Berkshires is located in Springfield, but Vazehgoo said the program is looking to expand across the entire state.

"We want to create an I-90 corridor by setting up these LEAP centers," he said. "Each center focuses on a different applications so we can join all these LEAP centers together."

He said the M2I2 program is also interested in connecting with projects being developed in both Connecticut and New York state, especially in the Capital Region around Albany, where New York's nanotechnology efforts are located.

"We can't spend money outside of Massachusetts, but connectivity is essential," Moskowitz said.

A representative of a Berkshire economic development agency was impressed with the presentation.

"We're excited about these types of programs and how they can impact the Berkshires," said Kevin Pink, economic development coordinator for the 1Berkshire Strategic Alliance.

Business Editor Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6224.


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