The little-known Manufacturing Extension Partnership program has helped grow small businesses like Michele’s Granola.
Walk into Michele’s Granola factory in Timonium, Maryland, and you smell the homey aromas of toasting oats, brown sugar and vanilla. The facility produces 2,500 pounds of granola a day in eight different flavors—from classic vanilla almond to more exotic varieties like pumpkin spice, lemon pistachio and ginger hemp. This granola is not the heavy, sticky mass-produced stuff you bought at the supermarket and find months later, congealed in a tub in the back of your pantry. It’s airy, light and practically crackles in your teeth.
“The granola has a very unique texture,” said company founder Michele Tsucalas. “We use just five to seven simple ingredients—nothing you wouldn’t find in your home kitchen.”
Tsucalas began baking her own granola more than a decade ago, experimenting at home as a weekend distraction from her day job as a nonprofit fundraiser. Once her recipe was perfected, she started selling her granola at farmers’ markets in northern Virginia and then at a food co-op in Maryland. Sales started catching fire, and today you can find Michele’s Granola in a dozen states, including at Whole Foods stores throughout the mid-Atlantic United States, and in Wegmans stores in the northeast. Since her first farmers’ market in 2006, Tsucalas’s business has grown from a one-woman concern operating out of leased space in a commercial kitchen to a sleek boutique business with 35 full-time workers.
But the secret to her success is more than a great product. Also instrumental was a little-known but decades-old government program—the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) program—aimed at helping small and medium-sized manufacturers like Michele’s Granola grow. It’s also on the chopping block in President Donald Trump’s proposed budget, one of dozens of programs the administration wants to kill.
While Trump has lately touted his efforts at job creation, including with a recent visit to Wisconsin to promote U.S. manufacturing, his plan to zero out the MEP program would eliminate one of the federal government’s best programs for achieving exactly that goal. It’s yet another example of how Trump’s actual economic policies fail to match—and even contradict—the president’s promises and rhetoric.