4, June 2024

Leading the MEP Program – and Giving Back to this Land of Hope and Promise

Leading the MEP Program – and Giving Back to this Land of Hope and Promise

By: G. Nagesh Rao

This blog is part of a series celebrating and sharing the stories of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander manufacturing leaders.

As Acting Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), I am embracing my inner “tech Lego nerd” to build wondrous endeavors with my colleagues that support the Make it in America ethos. I am a first generation American who has spent time in my career venturing on deep-tech startups, strategizing intellectual property portfolios for large-scale international textile original equipment manufacturers, and advising on numerous science-technology policy endeavors. I am now harnessing what I’ve learned from these experiences for the greater good of American manufacturing.

My deep fascination with the art of making

How did I get interested in manufacturing? Legos. I am a diehard Lego nerd. My wife is convinced the attic we had built in our house during the pandemic was secretly just to store my massive Lego collection. I will neither confirm nor deny her analysis.

Humor aside, I have had a deep-rooted fascination with manufacturing since my college days at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), where I studied materials science and engineering (as well as philosophy). This is also where I tinkered around with the art of making, while also pondering what made us.

This infectious energy has manifested itself throughout my career – from working for a major textile manufacturing company out of Sri Lanka to advising an optical solution engineering company to betting on clean energy manufacturing startups. I am a big believer in knowing how to create – and being both self-reliant and resilient.

What I like most about manufacturing is the opportunity to solve hard problems and create inventive and wondrous solutions for the world to enjoy and consume. I have a personal affection and affinity for food manufacturing. It’s an art – dealing with organic material and so many variables. It requires a harmonious environment and the heart of an orchestra conductor to make it all come together. Sweet Grass Dairy in Georgia, a small company that worked with the Georgia MEP back in 2021 to recover from the pandemic, is a great example of this harmony. 

Bringing my energy and experience to MEP

I have worked at NIST MEP for close to 10 months, but my involvement with the program reaches back much further. I have been collaborating with the MEP program from my various career perches – stemming back to 2010 during the Startup America days!

I want the MEP National Network™ to be recognized across America for our manufacturing expertise. More importantly, I want entrepreneurs, technologists, businesses, and others to associate this program with excellence, quality and good counsel. 

American manufacturing is a critical backbone for our economic and national security. It’s imperative that U.S. manufacturing and supply chains remain robust, given what we experienced from supply chain shortfalls during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Experts at MEP Centers across the country are doing this important work every day. My job, at the end of the day, is to be an effective public steward and shepherd for one of our country’s crown jewel public-private partnership programs – recognized as such both here in the U.S. and abroad.

Giving back to the US by strengthening manufacturing

My work at NIST MEP allows me to give back to the U.S. – my country of birth. My mom and dad came from rural India, where running water and reliable electricity were a luxury. For my immigrant parents, the U.S. offered hope and the promise of a better future for me. They came to America with great aspirations and settled in upstate New York, where there was a thriving manufacturing scene.

From Watervliet Arsenal (now Army Benet Laboratories) to General Electric R&D to my alma mater, RPI, I’ve experienced a confluence of the government-industry-academia innovation ecosystem. All with different perspectives and complementing each other to ensure a sustainable and resilient U.S. manufacturing industry.

The MEP National Network, with an MEP Center in every state and Puerto Rico, helps make that magic possible. It’s a center of gravity for those various manufacturing innovation ecosystems. It’s infectious and exciting to me to be an architect helping bring about a better tomorrow here in America.

Blog originally appeared here

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