The impact of globalization devastated the old industrial centers of Massachusetts. Increased international competition forced major manufacturers in Massachusetts to close, destroying the economic base of numerous communities. Once these companies closed, only small and medium-sized locally-based manufacturing shops remained. The smaller companies possessed potential to be strong competitors in the specialty and niche markets but had become overly-dependent on the larger firms, who had regularly subcontracted to them. Furthermore, the mass-production industries had left a workforce of semi-skilled employees who lacked craft knowledge, which would be essential for the success of the small businesses. In order to actively participate in a competitive global market and to effectively sustain the economy of the State's industrial areas, a network of assistance for these independent manufacturers needed to be established.
The Industry Action Project (IAP) was created in 1984 by the Governor's Commission on the Future of Mature Industries. IAP aimed to develop overall strategic plans for the stabilization and expansion of regional industry by helping firms and their workers identify common problems and move toward innovative solutions. Labor and community representatives act as full partners in a process of economic development that targets an entire region's manufacturing sector, incorporating dozens of firms and thousands of employees. The project rests on the concept that no one understands the problems of an industry better than those directly involved, who have knowledge of industry dynamics and interconnections among economic and social issues.
IAP cuts across usual categories of services to develop coordinated programs that encompass formally autonomous employers, labor unions, state and local governments, educational institutions and nonprofit community groups with the goal of local socio-economic improvement. For example, the establishment of public-private partnerships for training programs addresses the need for increasing skill and flexibility within small shops. These small firms are also able to pool resources to bring more work into the area and to move into higher value-added production through joint marketing initiatives.
Linkages with public institutions of higher learning focus on providing ongoing development of management and training. In addition, other state agencies help with product development opportunities, technology upgrades, and business and financial consulting. Social policy initiatives within the communities simultaneously address labor market shortages and public needs, such as the establishment of child-care facilities.
Several Massachusetts cities have successfully implemented IAP projects, including the Needle Trades Action Project (NTAP) in Fall River and the Machine Action Project (MAP) in Springfield. In these communities, documentation of existing firms and high-wage job opportunities has changed the way public training agencies respond to the industry.
Moreover, press coverage of the industry is far better informed and highlights opportunities and growth instead of just closings and layoffs. NTAP and MAP have sustained active boards and subcommittees, indicating heavy participation in the project's work by labor, management and community representatives. Through intensive hands-on research at the local level and innovative collaborations, IAP has allowed for industrial communities to adapt for survival in a quickly changing and highly competitive world economy.