‘Clean’ manufacturing center seeking cash to survive: General Assembly kills funding for Purdue program

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The center created by the Legislature to help manufacturers use environmentally friendly materials and production methods is scrambling for cash to keep stamping out solutions.

The Indiana Clean Manufacturing Technology & Safe Materials Institute lost its $475,000 annual state subsidy-a little over half its income-amid budget cutting in the last session of the General Assembly.

Industry and environmental groups are lamenting the potential scale-back or even closure of the institute if new funding isn’t found by August.

“We certainly feel it was very shortsighted to cut funding for these types of programs. Indiana needs to do a much, much better job of supporting the manufacturers. Eating your seed corn is the height of stupidity … whatever the shortterm [budgetary] needs they have,” William Deputy, a principal of Elkhartbased Godfrey Marine, said of lawmakers.

The institute helped the nation’s largest family-owned builder of recreational and fishing boats reduce its emissions of volatile organic compounds during fiberglass manufacturing.

The institute claims manufacturers paid $3.77 in state corporate taxes for each $1 in taxpayer-supported technical assistance.

“It actually paid for itself … So what do they do? They scrap the program. It was absurd. These people should have their heads examined,” said Grant Smith, executive director of Citizens Action Coalition. The Indianapolisbased not-for-profit in the early 1990s rallied the Legislature to create the institute, which opened at Purdue University a decade ago.

But state Sen. Robert Meeks, RLaGrange, said legislators facing a $650 million budget deficit had to make concessions. A number of other similar-size programs lost their funding as part of balancing the budget, he noted.

The reasoning was, “If you think it’s important enough, then put it in your operating budget” at Purdue, added Meeks, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Now the institute is seeking more contracts with state agencies and alliances with other Purdue organizations to stay afloat.

Among potential partners is Purdue’s Center for the Environment, the College of Engineering and the Center for Advanced Manufacturing-a Purdue affiliate-according to a memo sent to leaders.

The institute has an 11-member staff mostly of engineers, and has a representative in Indianapolis who works with local companies.

Executive Director Lynn Corson and his board have started discussions with aides for Gov. Mitch Daniels and with the Indiana Economic Development Corp. “to see if there is interest in continuing with the institute,” Corson said. “The state appropriation is really critical.”

The institute touts that it has helped manufacturers reduce pollutants more than 6,200 tons and save the companies at least $12 million over the last dozen years. Corson’s team solicited letters of support from 85 manufacturers that have used its services but its funding still got eliminated in a Senate committee.

“Technological innovation has a key role to play in solving a lot of our environmental problems,” said Tim Maloney, executive director of the Hoosier Environmental Council.

Besides helping firms curb pollution, the institute has helped them reduce the amount of materials needed in production, said Smith of CAC.

For example, American General Corp. in the late 1990s changed the way it painted Hummer trucks, reducing emissions and paint consumption and saving nearly $100,000, according to the institute.

Corson hopes to land more work from remaining funding sources, such as the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. Contracts with the agency include a program to help companies cited for environmental violations to change their processes.

Other funding comes from hosting seminars, such as a $500-a-head, two-day session to help workers train for ISO 14001 environmental standards.

Many of the institute’s services are free for manufacturing firms.

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