Walk into Michele’s Granola factory in Timonium, Maryland, and you smell the homey aromas of toasting oats, brown sugar and vanilla. The facility produces 2,500 pounds of granola a day in eight different flavors—from classic vanilla almond to more exotic varieties like pumpkin spice, lemon pistachio and ginger hemp. This granola is not the heavy, sticky mass-produced stuff you bought at the supermarket and find months later, congealed in a tub in the back of your pantry. It’s airy, light and practically crackles in your teeth.
“The granola has a very unique texture,” said company founder Michele Tsucalas. “We use just five to seven simple ingredients—nothing you wouldn’t find in your home kitchen.”
Tsucalas began baking her own granola more than a decade ago, experimenting at home as a weekend distraction from her day job as a nonprofit fundraiser. Once her recipe was perfected, she started selling her granola at farmers’ markets in northern Virginia and then at a food co-op in Maryland. Sales started catching fire, and today you can find Michele’s Granola in a dozen states, including at Whole Foods stores throughout the mid-Atlantic United States, and in Wegmans stores in the northeast. Since her first farmers’ market in 2006, Tsucalas’s business has grown from a one-woman concern operating out of leased space in a commercial kitchen to a sleek boutique business with 35 full-time workers.
But the secret to her success is more than a great product. Also instrumental was a little-known but decades-old government program—the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) program—aimed at helping small and medium-sized manufacturers like Michele’s Granola grow. It’s also on the chopping block in President Donald Trump’s proposed budget, one of dozens of programs the administration wants to kill.
While Trump has lately touted his efforts at job creation, including with a recent visit to Wisconsin to promote U.S. manufacturing, his plan to zero out the MEP program would eliminate one of the federal government’s best programs for achieving exactly that goal. It’s yet another example of how Trump’s actual economic policies fail to match—and even contradict—the president’s promises and rhetoric.
Created by the Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988, MEP was originally intended to goose the U.S. manufacturing industry, then feared to be losing ground to a rising Japan. Using both federal and state dollars, MEP centers were established in each state to help U.S. manufacturers—and small and medium-sized businesses in particular—become more efficient, innovative and produce better-quality products. Now administered by the National Institute of Standards and Technology at the Department of Commerce, MEP has since become one of the federal government’s most effective and cost-effective job creation programs.
Trump’s actual economic policies fail to match—and even contradict—the president’s promises and rhetoric.In fiscal 2016, according to a study by the Upjohn Institute, the program created at least 142,381 jobs and brought $1.13 billion to the Treasury in net revenues through its work with small and medium-sized manufacturers. Since the federal government only provides about $130 million in funding every year, that’s a return on investment of nearly 9:1, according to Upjohn’s analysis. “The return on investment seems pretty good based on the dollars invested,” said Jim Robey, lead researcher on the Upjohn study. While some MEP centers are state agencies, as is the case in Virginia, others are independent nonprofits. In all instances, the centers are partly funded through state and federal grants and by the fees clients pay for MEP center services.
Nevertheless, Trump’s budget proposes eliminating the program, arguing that it is duplicative of services available in the private sector. Moreover, says the president’s budget blueprint, “critics have labeled the MEP program as ‘corporate welfare’ since it provides direct support to industry.”