Economic development the small scale way

Two things you’ve probably seen a number of times in the media: talking about “makers” only as it relates to new makerspaces and hobbyists; economic development that centres on big employers opening large offices or plants in town. But actually, makers come in all shapes, sizes, and kinds of products, and a multiplication of small scale manufacturing can be a much more reliable way of revitalizing downtowns, creating employment, and creating value that sticks around.

Small-scale manufacturers produce anything from textiles to hardware to beer or coffee and more. Unlike large manufacturers, they fit into relatively small square footage and are clean, quiet neighbors. They are well-positioned to compete in the digital economy, but also fill storefronts and contribute to a thriving downtown or business district. […]

[U]nderstanding and celebrating what has contributed to your community’s sense of identity is the secret of building an economy no one can take away. Entrepreneurs have always been part of this. [Emphasis mine.]

Ilana Preuss literally wrote the book on how to get this done, as well as presenting the same topic at Next City. She provides multiple examples in a variety of cities, showing that small scale manufacturing fits better in downtown urban fabric and can not only make something locally, but also occupy street level retail spaces, and build on the existing personality of the city. Building programs to foster these kinds of businesses is also a great opportunity to address inequalities and communities that have been ignored in other programs or through unequal hiring practices.

The Maker City program in Knoxville, Tennessee, for example, trains residents about how to start and scale a business. With over 900 businesses participating in their programs, and over 50% of participants in the startup training program from low- and moderate-income households, this is all about connecting people and helping them grow their revenues.

Some ideas Preuss proposes in the article: Support entrepreneurs, provide incentives to be on Main Street, and encourage flexible, inclusive ecosystems.