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.

Weaving’s come back in Northern Ireland

Today we’re sharing a sweet story from Northern Ireland about the revival of a third-generation weaving company in the Mourne Mountains.

With a rich design history and a focus on small-scale apprenticeships and workforce development even when it started in the 1950’s, Mourne Textiles is a fine example of the resurrection of the handmade and maker movement. Originally planned as a design studio, a lack of craftsmen led to the training of local farmers’ children; even today the shop has a weaver (now 80 years old) who worked for the original owner.

Read the full story on the Guardian.

Will China become Chattanooga?

How will China’s economy, built on manufacturing and production, fair as they move towards a more service-based economy?

Ben Bernanke suggests looking towards cities like Chattanooga and Pittsburgh; cities that “were built on heavy manufacturing, a model that eventually reached its limits.”

Bernanke concedes the “analogy is not exact, of course: Unlike the case of China, the industrial hollowing out of U.S. rust-belt cities resulted in large part from increased foreign competition. In some respects, however, the constraints on industrial development faced by China and Chattanooga—notably, the increasing toll of heavy industry on the environment—were similar. (In 1969, the federal government identified Chattanooga as the country’s most polluted city.)

In any case, the rust-belt cities that succeeded in reviving their economies did so primarily by turning from manufacturing to services. In Chattanooga and other cities, public/private taskforces worked to revitalize downtowns, to develop tourist attractions and conference facilities, to clean up the environment, to improve transportation links and other critical infrastructure, and to attract businesses in “clean” sectors like medicine, technology, finance, and retail. Strengthening education was key, with benefits ranging from attracting and maintaining skilled workforces to seeding high-tech startups. Pittsburgh’s redevelopment in particular was greatly helped by the location there of several major universities, including Carnegie-Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh, which led efforts to build research facilities where old mills had once stood. Emblematic of Pittsburgh’s transformation is that the U.S. Steel building, the largest in downtown Pittsburgh, now bears a UPMC sign, for University of Pittsburgh Medical Center—the region’s largest employer.”

As China modernizes and moves towards providing more services for their citizens, domestically, what could it mean for American manufacturing?

Read his full take on the Brookings blog, and read about China’s plan to move towards a service industry here.

Girls who code

“In middle school, 74% of girls express interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), but when choosing a college major, just 0.4% of high school girls select computer science.”

Gender parity in technology careers is Girls Who Code’s driving mission. By 2020, there will be 1.4 million computer science jobs open, and GWC wants to fill at least half of them with women. Given the statistics above, this is an aggressive, though certainly worthy, goal.

They believe “to close the gender gap in technology, we have to inspire girls to pursue computer science by exposing them to real life and on screen role models.”

Last month, McKinsey sat down with three GWC Board Members to ask them about gender parity at their own organizations, and how they are each working towards the parity goal.

“In conversation with McKinsey’s Kara Sprague, members of the board of GWC—Jane Chwick, Alexis Maybank, and Jamie Miller—discussed the gender-diversity gap in technology, as well as tips for recruiting and retaining more women in technology organizations.” Watch their interviews and read the full article here.


Putting function into fashion

How traditional manufacturing informs technological advances

The University of Wollongong in Australia is finding new ways to integrate “function into fashion”. Researchers are creating fibers that collect data and store energy that can be woven into thread and fabrics that could then be turned into clothing–or wearable tech.

Professor Gordon Wallace says, “[We] use old approaches to manufacturing to create revolutionary new devices and…structures.” By taking traditional knitting and braiding techniques and integrating these fibers, our clothes will be able to transmit data about our health and bodies in real time.

To view the quick video on Wallace’s research, click here.

NPR’s “American Made: The New Manufaturing Landscape”

NPR is continuing on a series called “American Made: The New Manufacturing Landscape” with short episodes on topics from the skills gap, to sourcing, to makers, and apprenticeship programs.

Each story runs less than 10 minutes on average and is a good snapshot of what’s happening in the manufacturing ecosystem in the United States.

Their latest two episodes focus on Los Angeles, the biggest (though most unknown) manufacturing city in the country.

Check out all of their episodes here.

The challenge to scale up: Amazon and Etsy marketplaces

A question that we hear often posed is how will the maker movement and small batch products grow and morph into an economic booster that creates jobs and wealth for artists, their community, and their cities?

Scaling up a business is challenging. Moving from one-off creations up to hundreds or thousands per month requires employees, capital, and sales. The latter helps create the two former, and now two marketplaces exist where independent artists and makers can sell their goods.

Etsy, as we all know, has been a long time marketplace for “creative entrepreneurs”. After launching Etsy Manufacturing earlier this year (a platform that aims to help small makers scale up through contract manufacturing services), Amazon announced “Handmade” – a platform similar to Etsy, with some back-end differences in requirements from its artists and costs.

How will these two marketplaces affect makers ability to scale up? What sort of tools and resources are artists looking for when dreaming of expanding? How can the UMA help?

Read this comparison of Etsy and Amazon for a deeper look into the competitors.

STEM Education in Buffalo

Buffalo Manufacturing Works is partnering with four area high schools to engage students in manufacturing and 3D printing technology.

In an article with The Buffalo News, a senior from one of the schools said, “I’ve been waiting four years to get into a program like this. This is where the future’s going, additive manufacturing. To be involved with something like this, it’s really going to influence our future.”

Supported by a public-private partnership between Buffalo Billion and Praxis (a pharmaceutical company), Buffalo Manufacturing Works’ lab has a laptop computer and #d printer for each student – giving them incomparable hands-on experience.

In addition to increasing their STEM education opportunities, “Over the course of the school year, the students will learn about a variety of additive manufacturing technologies. They will have four “open print” days, where they can design an item to print or work on a school assignment. While the students will work with plastics in their lab’s printers, they will also observe 3-D printers that create metal parts on Buffalo Manufacturing Works’ shop floor.”

To read more about the program, click here or here.

Investing Locally Made Easy in Oregon

Hatch Oregon is a brand new non-profit that helps connect community-based, individual investors to locally-owned Oregon businesses who need capital to start or grow their business. They formed after the State of Oregon recently legalized community investing.

Through Hatch Oregon, residents can invest up to $2,500 each in an Oregon-based business. Hatch aims to connect investors looking for opportunities to businesses who need help. They have an interactive mapping function, host connecting events, and help people create neighborhood chapters.

Hatch works “directly with local leaders to embed new investment practices and tools into the fabric of the community. [They] are working with regional leaders to increase capacity to serve their constituencies via train-the-trainers workshops and new professional resources, and help people understand how to do community investments for tangible economic development. And, the Hatch Oregon provides valuable community connections across the region, building and sharing regional strategies.”

Check out all of the offerings on their website.


Distribution Challenges for Small Batch Producers

Recently the New York Times highlighted an on-going challenge facing small, craft breweries: “beer distribution is mostly through wholesalers, some of whom have been acquired by giant beer corporations.”

After reading this short but illuminating article, it seems this might be a bigger issue than just craft beer; when major non-local corporations control distribution, it affects so many other small, local retail channels. How can we use what we know about craft beer distribution and apply it to other industries?

The UMA wants to connect urban manufacturers to find best practices and solutions facing all types of manufacturing industries: food, beverage, apparel, electronics, and more.