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U.S. Secretary of Commerce William Daley applauded the California Manufacturing Technology Center during a visit to Los Angeles last week, saying the program appears to be doing its job helping small manufacturers modernize their operations.

“What I have seen and heard here gives me great confidence in the program,” said Daley, visiting Los Angeles for the first time since being appointed in January. “I think that public-private partnerships like this have shown their value, and that, I think, is reflected in the bipartisan support the program has in Congress.”

The Technology Center has an $18 million annual budget which is 50 percent federal money, 30 percent state and 20 percent from client fees.

Besides plant modernization, the Technology Center offers assistance on applications for quality standards certificates, pollution prevention, and staff training and development.

At a meeting with program officials and manufacturers in Hawthorne, Daley listened as several manufacturers detailed how their companies have benefited from Technology Center services.

Daley said he was visiting California “to study why it has become such an export powerhouse and to be able to teach other states how to follow suit.”

The meeting was held at ESC Technologies Inc. in Hawthorne. Company president Patrick McCormick, said the Technology Center consultants helped the aerospace component supplier devise a new business plan and new accounting strategies when it was spun off from its parent company in 1993.

The company makes accessories for mobile radar and communications systems, much of which is used in military applications. The Technology Center recently helped it develop new products for civil telecommunications and factory automation.

“I rate the CMTC as equal or better than the finest consultants from “Big Six” firms I used when I worked at other businesses,” McCormick said.

Daley also solicited criticism of the program at the round table. The responses were brief, mostly touching on broad themes, such as that government aid programs should give definite cut-off points for their services, lest a company become too dependent.

Another problem, according to Ken Hitts, a member of L.A.’s Business Team, is that the Technology Center is sorely under-utilized. About 180 companies in L.A. County have received assistance from the Technology Center since its founding 1992.

Hitts said the center could handle twice as many companies as it is currently assisting.

The Technology Center is the state affiliate of the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, of which all 50 states and Puerto Rico have affiliates. Since its founding, the California Manufacturing Technology Center has aided some 500 companies.

The Technology Center expanded last year from one office in Hawthorne to seven offices statewide and hopes to take on 350 new clients this year.

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