Small-scale manufacturing should be part of every city’s plan for economic recovery
In this new book published by Island Press, Preuss shows how communities across the country can build strong local businesses through small-scale manufacturing, reinvest in their downtowns, and create inclusive economic opportunity. Her book gives you a five-step method of success and case studies that showcase concrete examples from her work in cities across the country. Grab your copy from the publisher, Island Press, for 20% off with code RECAST at checkout. Or support a local bookstore and get the book from Bookshop, or on Kindle from Amazon.
Street festivals are more than just a nice way to spend a Saturday afternoon. They represent an approach to economic development that emphasizes people and connections. More and more communities are building their economy by creating a downtown where people want to be, with shops that are unique to the community, and finding that their competitive edge for business and job growth is dependent on downtown success.
Three tenets underpin this approach:
- Investing in the place is an economic strength,
- A unique identity of the place is essential to long-term value, and
- Social connections are essential to economic resilience.
There are a lot of ways cities can create these kinds of places. Throughout my decades of work helping cities use a place-based approach to economic development, however, one strategy in particular has stood out: support for small-scale manufacturing.
Small-scale manufacturers are locally owned businesses that produce anything from hats to hardware to distilled spirits to coffee and more. Unlike large manufacturers, they fit into relatively small commercial spaces and are clean, quiet neighbors. Your city might be home to some of these kinds of businesses already.
Small-scale manufacturers are great additions to downtowns and main streets for a number of reasons. The first is that these businesses can create jobs at a variety of skill levels. Whether it’s cutting leather, canning beer, or using heritage craftsman techniques, these businesses open doors for workers with diverse skills to learn and thrive.
The second is that it’s often women, immigrants, and Black, Latino or other business owners of color at the helm of these businesses. Consider, for example, Tina Shelvin Bingham, community leader and owner of The Natural Way, an herbal tea company in Lafayette, LA. Bingham partnered with Habitat for Humanity to redevelop a vacant building as a Community House in the McComb-Veazey neighborhood. Then she and partners organized and launched a Business Academy for residents in that space. In this way, Bingham grew her own business while helping other Black business owners scale as well. Supporting entrepreneurs like Bingham is a powerful, practical way to make local economies more participatory.
The third is that these businesses are well-positioned to compete in the digital economy. COVID accelerated this for many small-scale manufacturers, spurring them to move online faster and more robustly than they otherwise might have. Now many of these businesses are earning equal amounts from online and storefront sales, making them resilient to downturns or reduced foot traffic.
And finally, these businesses give people a reason to come downtown and stay awhile. People enjoy being able to see products being made and this gives small-scale manufacturers a unique boost over traditional retailers.
In short, small-scale manufacturers punch above their weight, economically. There are small, simple things cities can do to make it easier for these businesses to open or grow. Adjustments to zoning regulations, business grants, incubator programs and more can make a huge difference for small-scale manufacturers.
Recast Your City: How to Save Your Downtown with Small-Scale Manufacturing, released by Island Press, is my how-to book for community leaders to take action and create these opportunities in every city and town.
Small-scale manufacturers are part of an approach to economic development that values the people who make our communities great and the places where we all come together. It’s an approach that makes small cities prosperous for everyone.
It’s also an approach that creates fantastic street fairs. As we look ahead to COVID recovery and beyond, I can’t wait to visit more small cities across the country putting this approach into action.
Leave your comment below, or reply to others.
Please note that this comment section is for thoughtful, on-topic discussions. Admin approval is required for all comments. Your comment may be edited if it contains grammatical errors. Low effort, self-promotional, or impolite comments will be deleted.
Read more from MeetingoftheMinds.org
Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
People seem frequently to assume that the terms “sustainability” and “resilience” are synonyms, an impression reinforced by the frequent use of the term “climate resilience”, which seems to enmesh both concepts firmly. In fact, while they frequently overlap, and indeed with good policy and planning reinforce one another, they are not the same. This article picks them apart to understand where one ends and the other begins, and where the “sweet spot” lies in achieving mutual reinforcement to the benefit of disaster risk reduction (DRR).
As extreme weather conditions become the new normal—from floods in Baton Rouge and Venice to wildfires in California, we need to clean and save stormwater for future use while protecting communities from flooding and exposure to contaminated water. Changing how we manage stormwater has the potential to preserve access to water for future generations; prevent unnecessary illnesses, injuries, and damage to communities; and increase investments in green, climate-resilient infrastructure, with a focus on communities where these kinds of investments are most needed.
A few years ago, I worked with some ARISE-US members to carry out a survey of small businesses in post-Katrina New Orleans of disaster risk reduction (DRR) awareness. One theme stood out to me more than any other. The businesses that had lived through Katrina and survived well understood the need to be prepared and to have continuity plans. Those that were new since Katrina all tended to have the view that, to paraphrase, “well, government (city, state, federal…) will take care of things”.
While the experience after Katrina, of all disasters, should be enough to show anyone in the US that there are limits on what government can do, it does raise the question, of what could and should public and private sectors expect of one another?