The GENEDGE Alliance building in Martinsville. Photo by Dean-Paul Stephens.

The Martinsville-based GENEDGE Alliance, an organization that serves as a consultant to manufacturers across Virginia, will use a recently awarded grant to better connect companies with suppliers as part of a national mission to improve the U.S. supply chain.

Dean Young, GENEDGE’s vice president of business transformation, said the two-year, $400,000 grant will pay for a full-time employee to manage GENEDGE’s use of CONNEX Virginia, a platform that manufacturers can use to find suppliers and discover new business opportunities.

The money comes from a pilot program out of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology. The National Supply Chain Optimization and Intelligence Network program aims to build a nationwide network of suppliers and businesses to strengthen the U.S. supply chain and put a greater emphasis on domestic manufacturing.

CONNEX Virginia is the tool GENEDGE will use to help NIST accomplish that goal, Young said.

“The intent here is to help bring some capabilities back or identify suppliers who can fill gaps that we’ve been filling overseas,” Young said. “It’s really about trying to help shore up the manufacturing sector across the country and really understand who’s who.”

CONNEX Virginia is “an intelligent tool to match manufacturers to manufacturers,” Young said.

“If you’re a larger OEM-type manufacturer and you have gaps in your supply chain, this will help you find companies that can fill them, and if you’re a smaller manufacturer it should help you find folks who need what you do,” he said.

Founded in 1992 as the A.L. Philpott Manufacturing Extension Partnership, the recently rebranded GENEDGE Alliance has an annual budget of $8 million to $10 million and about 26 employees, Young said. Its funding is a mix of federal and state money plus fees it charges to its clients.

The organization is part of the NIST’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership, or MEP, network. There are MEP centers in each of the 50 U.S. states plus Puerto Rico; GENEDGE is Virginia’s only MEP center. MEP centers have a goal of working with small- and medium-sized manufacturers to help them grow.

Besides offering consulting services, GENEDGE recently launched a membership program featuring a suite of online and self-service content. It’s aimed at smaller companies that might not be able to spare the time or money to pay for GENEDGE’s traditional consulting services, Young said. 

One of the group’s larger recent endeavors began at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020.

GO Virginia Region 1 is one of nine regional councils in the GO Virginia public-private partnership; it serves far Southwest Virginia. It worked with GENEDGE to launch a $4.4 million project, which ultimately went statewide, to retool companies’ existing manufacturing capabilities.

The project was inspired by medical professionals facing a shortage of personal protective equipment and pharmaceuticals, said Shannon Blevins, vice chancellor for administration, government relations and strategic initiatives at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, which serves as the support organization for GO Virginia Region 1.

That led to a conversation about how to help manufacturers diversify their offerings.

“Every challenge, there is an opportunity usually in there,” Blevins said.

With the support of GO Virginia’s other regional councils, the program expanded across the commonwealth and branched out into other critical sectors of manufacturing such as power and defense.

Since its inception, the program has supported 56 Virginia companies, creating or retaining 680 jobs, Blevins and Young said.

GENEDGE calls the process of helping a manufacturer expand its portfolio “activity commercialization.”

“We work with companies who have a desire to get into a new industry, or sell a new product, or develop some new technology, and we help them take that to market,” Young said.

GENEDGE also helps manufacturers remove waste from their processes, which is particularly important as many companies struggle to find enough employees, Young said.

“We can work with them to make their processes more efficient so that they can build capacity and better utilize the workers they have,” he said.

One example of a company that went through the commercialization process with GENEDGE: Virginia MetalFab of Appomattox, which makes metal parts and assemblies for the energy, utilities, transportation and technology industries.

Virginia MetalFab announced in December that it was moving into the former Thomasville Furniture Industries building in Appomattox, with a plan to invest $9 million to create 130 jobs.

GENEDGE worked with the company to develop a commercialization plan for increasing its physical footprint and market share.

The latest $400,000 grant from the NIST builds on the same goals as the project that began with GO Virginia Region 1, Young said.

By identifying where supply gaps exist, and then finding domestic suppliers to help fill them, GENEDGE and its partners also help minimize potential risks that come from depending on importing products from other countries whose relationships with the U.S. could potentially be affected by geopolitics, Young said.

“Recent supply chain disruptions, which have led to shortages of critical medications and other everyday products, demonstrate just how important programs like these are for making sure our supply chains are stronger and more resilient,” U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, said in a statement.

Matt Busse is the business reporter for Cardinal News. Matt spent nearly 19 years at The News & Advance,...