The maker community could be a key force in developing strong local economies during fraught financial times, according to a new report.
The report, which was developed by the National League of Cities, the Urban Manufacturing Alliance, and Recast City, points to the role of “maker-entrepreneurs” — or “maker pros,” in our lingo — who sell handmade goods online, at brick-and-mortar locations, or at Maker Faires and pop-up markets. According to data from Etsy, a collaborator on the report, there have been Etsy shops operated out of 99.9% of counties in the United States. That deep market penetration, according to the guide, is already bringing billions of dollars to artisans and small-scale manufacturers in the world economy, and could be poised to become an even larger force with proper support.
“The healthiest city economies are diverse and inclusive of small, local businesses,” said Emily Robbins, an economic development associate at the National League of Cities and one of the authors of the report. “The maker economy is, in many cities, an untapped economic development powerhouse. This new report aims to help local elected officials understand how to ensure maker-businesses and small-scale manufacturers are represented in their city’s entrepreneurial ecosystems.”
Engagement by local government and organization can enable makers to grow their businesses. The report points to a pair of Birmingham food makers, Steel City Pops and Jawanda’s Sweet Potato Pies, which started as vendors at a local market and have both grown to obtain their own retail spaces. City administrators can also lead by example by procuring goods from local makers.
The report also points to the importance of local organizations that act as resource and branding hubs for maker pros, with case studies ranging from the West Coast’s Make it in LA and SFMade to Made in NYC and Cincinnati Made. These groups can serve as community builders for early stage entrepreneurs, but can also help connect with supply chains and financial resources.
“Makers and small-scale manufacturers offer so much to cities, from creative goods to employment opportunities to more inclusive access to entrepreneurship,” the report’s authors wrote. “Local leaders can play a big role in unlocking the potential of their city’s maker economy by creating a supportive business ecosystem, driving demand for local goods, advocating for policies that support makers and providing affordable manufacturing and retail space.”
A bonus to supporting the local maker economy, according to the report: in addition to strengthening local business, bolstering the maker pro community can increase inclusion in the innovation sector by bypassing traditional stumbling blocks like venture capital and pricey retail leases.