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Catalyst Connection using Build Back Better funding to modernize small and medium manufacturing businesses

The Hazelwood-based organization is launching the Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) Robotics Expansion project to bring meaningful opportunity to the region.

A Catalyst Connection employee providing a tutorial for a manufacturer. (Courtesy photo)

As a nonprofit consulting organization, Catalyst Connection is known for helping small manufacturers throughout Southwestern Pennsylvania adapt their technology through training and consulting services.

Now, with its $4.8 million portion of the $62.7 million in total received by area projects from the federally backed Build Back Better Regional Challenge grant program, the Hazelwood-based organization is launching the Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) Robotics Expansion project seeking to help 1,000 small- and medium-sized business — primarily manufacturers — crossover to using advanced technologies.

Petra Mitchell, CEO of Catalyst Connection and leader of the project, told Technical.ly that the priority will be helping the small businesses it’s serving understand and envision how they can incorporate technologies such as robotics, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and machine learning into their manufacturing processes.

“This is really aligned with our overall strategy and mission to help improve the competitiveness of small/medium sized manufacturers, and technology adoption is a key part of that,” Mitchell said. “So we’ve already been helping companies to some extent. This project and this funding will enable us to really expand and accelerate those activities.”

Currently, the project is working on educating communities through fine-tuning content on what advanced technologies have to offer manufacturers, but Catalyst Connection plans to start accepting applications from businesses interested in technical assistance in the beginning of 2023. Once accepted, eligible businesses will gain access to management support, technical experts, and technical assistance funding that will help companies be better positioned to more efficiently participate in the region’s economy.

While Catalyst Connection plans to lead the project, it will work in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh and the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute which focuses on making training for robotics careers in advanced manufacturing more accessible. The goal is for each partner to help the project ensure that manufacturers are aware of and have access to the various workforce development resources available to them. As Catalyst Connection sees it, small- and medium-sized manufacturing enterprises are a key sector for the Southwestern Pennsylvania region’s economy, citing the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance’s estimation that manufacturers employ 7.8% of the workforce.

“What we’re trying to accomplish is global competitiveness of small businesses in our community,” Mitchell said. “I would want people to understand that advanced technologies can play a critical role in becoming globally competitive and that we can bring resources to the table to help identify, evaluate, and implement advanced technologies to help assure success.”

Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a 2022-2024 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.
Companies: Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute / University of Pittsburgh / Carnegie Mellon University

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