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Guest Post: Urban Manufacturing Alliance

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LISC and the Urban Manufacturing Alliance are partnering to support and spark idea-sharing among local makers and manufacturers. This article is from our colleague at UMA, Johnny Magdaleno.


After the Urban Manufacturing Alliance brought city leaders and manufacturers to Indianapolis for workshops and TED-style talks on supporting local manufacturers last year, a group of industrial business directors got back in the car to drive home to Milwaukee, buzzing with fresh ideas.

On that drive, they decided that when they got home, they were going to tour all of Milwaukee’s industrial districts, with an eye toward how they could take industrial spaces and turn them into affordable hubs for local entrepreneurs looking for a place to produce. “Without the impetus for gathering together and making the time for it, that level of collaboration might not have happened between those community organizations,” said Katy Stanton, Program Director at UMA.

Following the success of their Indianapolis Gathering and previous events in Detroit, Los Angeles and New York, UMA is getting ready to host its first big Gathering of 2017 in Somerville, Massachusetts -- a city that has a strong track record of using industrial space to launch small manufacturers and artisans from a variety of backgrounds. It’ll take place from May 17th to May 19th, and include more than 100 community organizations, city agencies and business owners, all coming together to discuss how they can stimulate small manufactures back home.

LISC is a key sponsor of the UMA event, just as it was for the Indianapolis Gathering. Together, both organizations are aiming for the same target: resilient neighborhoods that can provide untapped opportunities for communities long kept out of economic growth at the urban level.

The Gathering’s theme is Making, Scaling and Inclusion. Attendees will look at how local programs in Somerville and Greater Boston are stimulating the growth of maker-businesses and empowering local neighborhoods. These initiatives range across the region, from Somerville’s proposed fabrication zone, to a new federally-funded program led in part by local incubator Greentown Labs that’ll connect hardware startups and manufacturers, to a partnership between LISC and Northeastern University that’s putting affordable loans into the hands of minority and women entrepreneurs.

Urban manufacturing isn’t only about the large manufacturing operations generally found on the outer edge of cities. At its core, it’s about a new generation of entrepreneurs from diverse economic and ethnic backgrounds that are raising the local economy and city tax base, often with small, low-impact operations. Cities across the nation have demonstrated that these producers can fit in mixed-use neighborhoods, easily within reach to inner city residents.  The next step is hashing out strategies that can help these makers scale in their cities while creating economic opportunity for their neighbors.

UMA Gatherings bring participants together so they can explore these successes with an active presence, engaging in and stimulating conversation from workshop to workshop. They’re levels of energy above the typical panel-led trade conference, with the intent of getting stakeholders not just interested in helping local manufacturers but brainstorming on what their city can do before the event even wraps up.

“We want them to say ‘Hey look, Somerville’s doing this around supply-chain management, or [maker space] Artisan’s Asylum is doing this around community programming.’ It’s just a way to learn how to get thoughtful policy solutions on the ground,” says Lee Wellington, Executive Director of UMA. “The success of these conferences is really built on attendees sharing these stories and being open in this space,” she adds.

In Somerville, those attendees will include Donalyn Stephenson, president and CEO of FABLabs for America, a national initiative backed by MIT that’s trying to connect underserved communities to spaces for making. Then there’s Grace Teo, who runs Open Style Lab, a small clothing manufacturing initiative that’s making fashion accessible for people of all abilities.

Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone will be speaking about the impact light manufacturers have had on his city. LISC’s Karleen Porcena will lay out how her organization is helping finance entrepreneurs from disadvantaged communities. And Chris Wilson, a returning citizen who started the furniture restoration business House of DaVinci in Baltimore, will talk about how manufacturing gave him access to the type of economic opportunity that’s usually roped off from ex-offenders.

Together, they’ll give attendees a real-time feed of the state of artisans and small manufacturers in the U.S -- and potentially spur some of the next big ideas on how to build thriving local economies that are fair and equitable across the East Coast.

 
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