Welcome to the UMA’s blog. We are working to amplify the conversation around urban manufacturing, bringing together practitioners, government officials and organizations, non-profits, businesses, and anyone who believes that the best way to do business and make cities better is to work together.

Collaboration as key in Philadelphia

“Manufacturing competitors have become colleagues, working together through the Manufacturing Alliance of Bucks and Montgomery Counties. Together, they build apprenticeship pathways, work with local high schools and community colleges to create curriculums that match employers’ needs, and, perhaps most important, share contracts with one another.”

The Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce’s event last week brought together manufacturers and practitioners from around the region, and focused on the importance of collaboration in the region’s growth: “‘The trick,’ said Bud Tyler, vice president of the E.F. Precision Group, in Horsham, ‘is to get the owners of small manufacturers to come out of their shops, where they are both busy and comfortable, and communicate about shared challenges.'”

The UMA seeks to support members in replicating and sharing best practices – this kind of collaboration is key to growing the urban manufacturing renaissance!

Read the full article here.

Design collaboration in Pittsburgh, Chicago

Design House, a Chicago-based nonprofit organization that helps revitalize manufacturing through design, hosted their signature event, a Design Jam, in Pittsburgh last November. It was the organization’s first non-Chicago event.

Design Jam is “based around this idea that, essentially, when somebody—designer, a maker, entrepreneur—has an idea, they then look to see where they can have that idea made,” Design House board member Paul Hatch explained during his pre-jam presentation on the state of manufacturing dubbed ‘Design Matters’ to Next Pittsburgh. “What we’re about, Design House, is reversing that process. We actually start with the manufacturer and then come up with the idea. So there’s no shopping around. We’re designing for their talent, for their particular skills.”

Design House engages a local manufacturer, and local designers come together and collaborate to create production ideas utilizing the sponsoring manufacturers’ product. After the jam, Design House takes “the seeds of the ideas and further develops them, so that when manufacturers look at them, it’s something that can actually be done,” said Board member Tim Fletcher.

According to Next Pittsburgh the process then entails “working with a manufacturer to build the project and eventually embarking on a Kickstarter campaign.”

This kind of backwards collaboration is innovative, flexible, and inclusive – all attributes that the UMA champions in its support of the manufacturing renaissance in cities. Good luck to Design House in their expansion!

Manufacturing training gets a boost in Massachusetts

In December 2015, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker approved $1.5 million in grant money for advanced manufacturing training, geared toward people who are unemployed or underemployed. This is a $500,000 increase from the previous allotment. “It is geared toward providing workforce training to people in demographic groups that have higher rates of unemployment or are underrepresented in manufacturing, including blacks, Latinos, veterans and women, according to Baker’s office.”

“These grants will create additional opportunities for training and growth, and will help connect residents to good-paying jobs, while meeting the increasing demand for a skilled manufacturing workforce,” Baker said in a statement.

One of the organizations receiving grant dollars is TechFoundry. Free to students, Tech Foundry’s mission is to build an institute to educate students in the technology field with skills that are currently in demand. They partner with local businesses to determine the skills needed for entry level employment and secure commitment to offer employment opportunities to the students who possess those skills.

Read about other organizations who received grant dollars here.

Innovation in Chattanooga

Brookings’ Centennial Scholar Bruce Katz has proclaimed “something special is happening in Chattanooga….A recent visit convinces me that U.S. cities—particularly small and medium-sized ones—can take multiple paths to unleashing their distinct innovative economies.”

Chattanooga’s “innovation district“‘s main claim to fame is its 1-gigabit-per-second fiber internet service, which is now “the fastest, cheapest, most pervasive internet in the Western Hemisphere,” according to Mayor Andy Berke.

In addition to being “Gig City”, Katz says “Chattanooga has built strategically on three critical assets—quality place making, unusual anchor institutions, and a highly collaborative innovation ecosystem.” Even President Obama has recently hailed the city as a “tornado of innovation“.

Read more about those assets and why they are making Chattanooga “a community committed to not just to innovation but inclusion.”

Renewing vacant industrial properties

In NextCity’s story “Can Detroit’s Vacant Factories Become Community Assets?”, author Matthew Lewis shares multiple examples of large vacant industrial spaces finding new life as successful mixed-use projects.

With 6.1 square miles of vacant industrial property in the city (that’s about 4.3 percent of the city’s entire landmass), there are plentiful opportunities to renew former industrial sites in Detroit. Lewis shares examples in Pittsburgh and Rotterdam, where public-private partnerships led the way to new collaborations in the Energy Innovation Center and Research, Design and Manufacturing (RDM) Campus, respectively.

With developers working on a number of sites in Detroit already, the potential for new development is great: “We have a window of opportunity with these buildings,” said Dan Kinkead, Director of Projects for Detroit Future City. “They’re in areas with accommodating zoning and they’re tied to big systems. It’s time to think differently about what these spaces can be.”

Equity and bicycling

An adjacent topic to manufacturing is the equity in the many bike shop and sharing communities popping up in cities all around the United States.

Groundswell’s recent feature about the Newark Bike Shop in Delaware gives some tips on how to make sure all biking communities are equitable for all interested members:

“Community bike shops habitually tie together equity and environmental issues. Many give away free bicycles to those in need and sell donated bikes for cheap, so people who couldn’t otherwise afford them can have access to reliable transportation free of fossil fuels.

The shops also often make an effort to deliberately reach out to low-income people, whether through using local social services to connect individuals to their programs.”

Ease of transportation is a major factor in the success of urban manufacturing – both for moving people and products. Bicycling is definitely a part of that; not to mention, making bikes is manufacturing!

Innovation and equity in Pittsburgh

AlphaLab Gear, a hardware accelerator program based in Pittsburgh, provides seed capital, mentorship, training, and office space to cohorts of eight to 10 companies, over a period of 40 weeks. They focus on hardware companies, “that have a tangible, manufactured product that may or may not have a software component.”

Ilana Diamond, who leads the AlphaLab Gear program for InnovationWorks (AlphaLab Gear’s parent organization), says she wants to “increase the diversity of entrepreneurs and increase the number of people who see entrepreneurship as a career.” Through partnerships with TechShop and InnovationWorks, AlphaLab Gear can supports entrepreneurs bringing products from prototyping to market.

InnovationWorks, through AlphaLab Gear, has invested more than $62.1 million in 200 startups, attracting $1.6 billion in follow-on capital to the Pittsburgh region since establishing its seed capital fund in 1999.

To read more about what types of projects they support, check out NextCity’s article.

A Chicago Congressional candidate talks manufacturing

The post below is in no way an endorsement of the candidate or his proposed plan.

Thomas Day, a candidate for Congress in Illinois’ 7th District, released an editorial proposing a plan on how to make Chicago the manufacturing powerhouse it once was. Through a combination of federal support, workforce development, and supply chain updates, Day suggests that Chicago could fill the 30,000 “manufacturing jobs in Chicago waiting for qualified applicants.”

He finishes, “This is a region built on manufacturing. We became the “City of the Big Shoulders” because of our status as a manufacturing center. Yet it would be foolish to feel entitled to Chicago’s place as a manufacturing leader.”

To read his suggestions, visit ChicagoInno.

The opposite of urban manufacturing

How an outdoor apparel brand is creating a network of rural manufacturers in Colorado

Much like urban manufacturing, Voormi CEO Dan English sees the value of keeping production local: “I don’t want to get a crate of 5,000 pieces from Asia and find out that they’re all made wrong,” he says.

Unlike urban manufacturing, however, English is setting up a network of factories throughout rural Colorado, in small mountain towns that lack well-paying jobs, but where people want to live. He continues, “With distributed manufacturing, I don’t need to worry about large minimum orders, quality control or customs. We’re only dealing with hundreds of pieces at a time. And even with the logistics of dealing with multiple manufacturers spread over hundreds of miles, we still have more flexibility to move and innovate faster than if we were sourcing everything out of Asia.”

He says Voormi is applying the “microbrew” model to an apparel line. Voormi designs and creates outdoor apparel for mountaineers, cyclists and other outdoor-sports enthusiasts.

While the location is different than what the UMA aims to support, the foundation of values remains the same: creating sustainable jobs and keeping quality high. Read the full article on entrepreneur.com.