SBU doesn’t need a LIFT to rework MEP

By GREGORY ZELLER //

Ann-Marie Scheidt and Jeffrey Saelens would like to make something clear: Long Island’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership program is under Stony Brook University’s exclusive control.

Despite several erroneous media reports that a joint application by SBU and the Long Island Forum for Technology won a five-year MEP award from NYSTAR, Empire State Development’s technology innovation division, only the university is listed on the winning regional MEP competition application – and the university is managing the program alone.

LIFT, which had been the regional MEP manager for years, is one of several constituent organizations of the Manufacturing and Technology Resource Consortium, which SBU is forming around the five-year MEP award. One early idea was to headquarter the new MTRC inside LIFT’s Composite Prototyping Center in Plainview, and the center is expected to play an integral role in the MTRC’s efforts, but the forum is no longer involved in the management of Long Island’s MEP program.

Ann-Mari Scheidt: SBU is "sole recipient" of latest Long Island MEP award.

Ann-Marie Scheidt: SBU is “sole recipient” of latest Long Island MEP award.

“The university is the sole recipient of the award,” Scheidt, SBU’s director of economic development, told Innovate LI. “The application we submitted indicated a sizeable number of program delivery partners that we want to work with, including LIFT, but the MEP award was made to Stony Brook University.”

Management of the MEP program falls specifically to Saelens, interim head of SBU’s incubator programs and now executive director of the still-baking MTRC. The MEP award, which brings in $950,000 annually and includes a noncompetitive renewal clause, is the heart of the new consortium – precisely what SBU planned when it prepared its NYSTAR application.

When Gov. Andrew Cuomo tasked his Regional Economic Development Councils in 2015 with identifying their regions’ best economic hopes, the Long Island REDC decreed biotechnology to be the Island’s top industrial cluster. So, when it applied for the 2016 MEP award, Stony Brook tailored its plan to match the LIREDC’s vision.

“A number of elements in the MEP proposal demonstrate how we can address the needs of that regionally chosen industry cluster,” Scheidt noted.

That’s especially clear in the selection of MTRC program partners. Including SBU’s various Centers of Excellence, LIFT, state-run Small Business Development Centers, private corporate partners and other Long Island colleges, each of the program partners – there are currently 12 – offers unique training opportunities or other business-development programs that could benefit biotech startups.

The proposed partners also bring traditional-manufacturing benefits to the table, and that’s an important point, according to Scheidt, who noted the Island’s new-look MEP program, while heavy into biotech concerns, won’t forget traditional manufacturers.

“This doesn’t mean the MEP is going to work only with biotech companies and ignore everybody else,” she said. “In order to secure the MEP designation, we had to demonstrate that we had the capacity to meet the needs of the biotech industry, but we also have to meet the needs of the rest of Long Island’s manufacturers.”

Still, the new regional MEP – part of a National Institute of Standards and Technology effort that funnels federal funds through state programs to support regional manufacturing initiatives – is definitely biotech-centric. That’s a clear expansion of parameters from previous MEP programs managed by LIFT, which focused exclusively on aerospace and the other traditional-manufacturing concerns that once made Long Island go.

And that makes Saelens, a former NYSTAR research director who did postdoctoral work at Harvard Medical School and led a quarter-century’s worth of commercial pharmaceutical R&D efforts, the perfect exec to run it, Scheidt noted.

“We’re not reinventing the wheel here,” she said. “What we’re doing, under Jeff’s leadership, is providing a single place for biotech companies and manufacturers to find these resources.”

Neither Scheidt nor Saelans would comment on the exact role to be played by LIFT, or any other program partner, in the MTRC. Saelens said details would come clearer in September, when the consortium hosts a “kick-off-type meeting” to identify program partners and the services they’re offering.

“When you try to help a company, you often have to make multi-partner arrangements,” Saelens noted. “They often have more than one problem, and we have to try to figure out where the MTRC can help, and when we need to refer them elsewhere.”

Another reason to maintain ties with traditional manufacturing concerns, according to Scheidt, is the changeable nature of Long Island’s manufacturing communities. While biotech is the hot field now, that can change – in fact, a lot can change over five years, the economic development chief noted, and especially over 10, if that noncompetitive renewal kicks in.

“There are clearly going to be changes in the regional manufacturing infrastructure,” Scheidt said.

That means Long Island’s new MEP masters have to be nimble – though right now, their focus is absolutely on developing the best business-development resources for the Island’s burgeoning biotech industry, while continuing to support the region’s traditional manufacturers.

“This is the biggest opportunity we’ve seen to focus Long Island’s manifold resources on the needs of these biotech firms and manufacturers,” Scheidt said.


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