Cowan is a manufacturing executive with more than 20 years of experience managing small and large organizations in the information technology networking, energy and textile industries. He was most recently the director of global product management for Opengear, and he previously served as vice president of marketing for Asure Software, product manager at A123 Systems, and product line director for American Power Conversion.
“I’m excited to bring my broad business experience to support local manufacturers,” said Cowan, who earned an engineering degree from Villanova University and an MBA from URI. “It’s critical to take the important research happening at URI and use it to help improve local companies.”
“I was greatly impressed by Christian’s breadth of engineering and business experience both in the manufacturing sector and in using advanced technology from universities,” said Jim Petell, executive director of the URI Research Foundation, which absorbed the former Rhode Island Manufacturing Extension Service last year and renamed it Polaris. “He brings new capabilities to Polaris that promote our strategy of using the innovations and skills of URI faculty and students to stimulate new growth for Rhode Island manufacturers.“
Cowan said that manufacturing in the United States has changed dramatically in the last 15 years – from mass manufacturers of products to custom manufacturers – and organizations like Polaris must adapt their programs to provide the best service to their clients and to the Rhode Island workforce.
“My aim is to grow the program’s capabilities to support the changes taking place in the strong manufacturing industry in Rhode Island,” he said. “Last year Rhode Island manufacturers added 700 new jobs after decades of job loss. These are important jobs to build Rhode Island’s economy.”
The average annual salary for a manufacturing job today is $45,000, and the sector employs more than 40,000 people.
His first priority, Cowan said, is developing new programs and services for the manufacturing community, including innovation engineering, supply chain optimization, and specialized support for family-owned companies. He also plans to leverage state and federal resources to provide the necessary funding to accomplish Polaris’ mission. As the manufacturing industry partner to the Governors Workforce Board, Polaris has led the creation of Rhode Island’s new apprenticeship program for computer numerical control operators. It also administers training grants funded by the state for participation in its public and on-site workshops and trainings.
“I want Polaris to be top of mind when manufacturers are thinking about how to achieve operational excellence,” said Cowan. “This encompasses businesses looking to grow, restructure or optimize their operations. I want us to be the go-to experts for whatever assistance they may need.”
Polaris Manufacturing Extension Partnership provides on-site training and one-on-one custom services designed to help manufacturing companies in Rhode Island grow their businesses and operate more efficiently. It offers “lean manufacturing” programs, including production optimization, cost reduction, facility layout and quality management services like ISO certification, as well as growth-oriented services designed to help manufacturers access new markets and develop new products and processes.
Established in 1996, Polaris operates under a contract with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which provides $750,000 in annual funding. It is one of 58 manufacturing extension programs located across the United States.
Photo by Nora Lewis