As the maker economy continues to take shape in cities across the country, it is emerging as a potential powerhouse for building strong local economies through creative microbusinesses and small-scale manufacturing. As this industry of small businesses expands and transforms, city leaders should understand what the maker economy is and how to harness its economic development potential.
Discovering Your City’s Maker Economy is co-developed by National League of Cities (NLC), Etsy, Recast City and the Urban Manufacturing Alliance and aims to provide a road map for cities and maker communities on how to collaboratively develop policies, programs and a culture that better supports local maker businesses, micro-producers and small manufacturers. The guide also aims to help define the maker community, highlight specific ways that city leaders can support these entrepreneurs, and provide profiles of supportive programs, policies and partnerships at the city level.
A “maker” is someone who makes things. A “maker-entrepreneur” sells handmade items for a profit either online or in-person through brick-and-mortar stores, craft fairs, pop-up markets, or to friends and family. Maker-entrepreneurs are, quite literally, everywhere.
A recent survey conducted by Etsy, an online marketplace for creative entrepreneurs, reported that there have been Etsy shops open in 99.9 percent of U.S. counties. These entrepreneurs are taking advantage of a growing market for local homemade and vintage goods, with Etsy sellers generating $2.8 billion in worldwide sales in 2016 from a wide variety of items including clothing, kitchenware, baked goods, toys, jewelry, craft supplies and furniture.
Despite the growing prevalence of maker entrepreneurs, there is still room to grow in terms of the programs and public policies in place to support their sustainability and success. Often, the traditional support systems provided by local governments for small businesses, such as access to loan capital or streamlined building permitting, are not always the types of interventions that maker-entrepreneurs need to succeed. Instead, maker-entrepreneurs are more likely to need assistance with advertising, legal support or connecting to other makers and local manufacturers.
However, there is also one lesser known value of makers to local communities: the potential for the maker community to be inclusive and act as a key driver in achieving a city’s equity goals. Without the need to raise venture capital, sign expensive retail leases, or meet payroll costs, the barriers and risks associated with entering the industry of maker-entrepreneurship are lower than for high-growth tech startups, restaurants, or even a traditional corner store.
Therefore, cities should embrace the maker movement as a way to proactively connect under served, low-income and minority individuals with a pathway to a sustainable career as a maker-entrepreneur.
About the Author: Emily Robbins is Principal Associate for Economic Development at NLC. Follow Emily on Twitter @robbins617.