Workforce Development / Energy Management / Maintenance

How (and where) to find the funds for your plant’s big projects

In this Big Picture Interview, learn how to take advantage of grants available to support your major initiatives.

By Christine LaFave Grace, managing editor

Micki Vandeloo is president of Lakeview Consulting, an Illinois consultancy that works with manufacturers, not-for-profits, and other organizations to help them obtain grants to support major projects and initiatives. For manufacturers, beyond the time-intense process of applying for grants and getting the human resources needed to navigate the process, often there’s not strong awareness even of what kind of money is out there for the asking. Vandeloo talked with Plant Services managing editor Christine LaFave Grace about how manufacturers can identify the funding opportunities they may be missing.

PS: What don’t manufacturers realize is available in terms of grants and awards?

MV: Many manufacturers just don’t realize that grants exist at all. They have not had that education; it has not been part of them being brought up in the manufacturing world. Some have strong misconceptions about what grants are. They think that they’re free money, which I bristle at the notion of, basically because no money is free. You have to do something to get the money, which takes time and resources. Maybe they’ve heard rumors about grants being taken away from a manufacturer, and really that happens in a very small percentage of the cases, and every time it happens, it happens because that particular manufacturer didn’t do what they were supposed to do in the grant.

Some are aware that grant funding exists, but they don’t know all of the grants and incentives that are available to them. They might have heard of a training grant, for example, or they might even say, “We’ve accessed a training grant,” and that’s great, but there are so many other programs out there, so many other tax credits, that could apply to their situation. I want to make sure they’re not leaving any money on the table.

PS: What specific agencies or entities are offering these grants, and what kind of projects do they support?

MV: The largest by far for manufacturers are the state economic development agencies. Every state has an economic development agency, and those organizations are tasked with improving the economy of the state, and many times they do that by providing grants. State economic development agencies can provide training grants; they can fund very specific apprenticeship-type initiatives; they can help companies connect with workers … and train those workers when they get connected to them. But there is also some federal funding that is targeted to for-profit companies. The largest program there offers funding for high-technology research-type projects. There’s also federal funding that’s passed through to state agencies and … those agencies then will provide finding. An example is USDA. For rural companies, USDA has what they call the Rural Energy for America program, and that program can fund a portion of the cost of solar panels or wind turbines, or equipment that’s more energy-efficient than current equipment when companies put that in, and that’s a really good source of funding for manufacturers as well.

So, you’ve got federal funding that goes through the states, you’ve got actual federal funding that goes directly to manufacturers, and you’ve got state funding. There’s also local funding. A lot of manufacturers don’t realize that they’re in enterprise zones, and just by being in an enterprise zone, those companies can access tax credits that companies that aren’t in the enterprise zone can’t.

PS: If I’m a small to midsize manufacturer and I’m new to the grant-application process, where and how would you advise me to start? What should I be looking at?

MV: I would really ask you some really very targeted questions to start the grant and incentive research project, and those would include: How many jobs are you going to add when you do this project? What kind of equipment are you going to purchase? Is it going to be more energy-efficient than what you have right now? Where are you located? Are you located in a rural area or in an urban area? Are you going to be training people as part of this project?

The fact is that a project can be funded by a number of types of grants and incentives. How much capital investment are you going to make? Are you going to add a facility to do it? Are you going to add a building? What are the expected outcomes of the project? There are specific, targeted tax credits and grants for each portion of a project, and those can combine to fund a project.