Part 1: Find, connect, and support small scale manufacturers
First in a Four-Part Series. Reprinted from MADE in Place, with permission from Smart Growth America. Text in italics and all links are newly added at the discretion of the author.
Many jurisdictions do not have a readily accessible list of small-scale manufacturing businesses or know who owns these enterprises. Economic development practitioners can build a database of small-scale manufacturing business owners to understand the locations as well as the types and sizes of spaces the businesses need. Communities will need to invest in purposeful outreach to identify business owners who are people of color, women, and from local immigrant populations, since these businesses are often not tied into the existing business networks. Outreach such as this will ensure that small-scale manufacturers know who to contact for financing, space needs, infrastructure issues, and city permits. Local attention also increases their likelihood of remaining in the community.
The community’s economic development team can provide a number of different types of support and connections:
- Identify local, small production businesses through local fairs, markets, ethnic and religious institutions, and by hosting informal networking events in target neighborhoods. Washington D.C. convenes producers regularly through their pop-up Shop Made in DC and Maker Monday meet-ups.
- Recruit small-scale manufacturers to target retail locations in the community to support reinvestment and build up the attraction and energy in an area. Provide matchmaking services for potential tenants with local developers interested in this sector. SFMade’s Places to Make program connects growing small producers with small industrial spaces that larger brokers do not cover.
- Connect business owners to resources like commercial shared kitchens or makerspace facilities to expand their production at low risk. Youngstown’s commercial shared kitchen, Common Wealth Kitchen Incubator, provides subsidized space for low-income entrepreneurs to launch their business.
- Provide small business training and entrepreneurship programs specific to the needs of production businesses, similar to those provided to other types of local businesses. Rev Birmingham adopted the CO.STARTERS program to help residents launch more successful local businesses.
- Create a marketing brand for locally made products, with an online directory of participating manufacturers and products. Knoxville, also highlighted below, launched a website to brand and promote local producers called, The Maker City. This site serves as the focal point for the producers and the city to spread the word about this sector.
- Establish a one-stop shop either within the local government or at a partnering non-profit to ensure that small producers know where to go for help. The Made in Baltimore program, funded by the city and a grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, connects small producers to services through its one-stop shop website.
Case study – Knoxville, Tennessee
The Mayor’s Maker Council was formed in 2016, designed to develop a shared vision for the region’s diverse maker community; raise awareness of Knoxville’s local maker movement and associated micro-economies; promote local goods and services; and address government policies and regulatory issues that impact maker businesses. 19 The 15 members of the Maker Council are appointed by the Mayor, and represent maker businesses, developers, and community non-profits in the city. The Mayor sends a representative to all Council meetings, and the Council hosts an annual Maker City Summit to connect with maker business owners and support their work. The city partners with the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center and the Knoxville Urban League to create a one-stop shop of resources for small manufacturing business owners, startup trainings, a local Maker City brand, and to work together to connect with minority and women-owned businesses.