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How 4 cities are using manufacturing to build equitable economies

A new report from the Equitable Innovation Economies Initiative argues industry can foster diverse, dynamic growth

Manufacturing as a bedrock of the middle class: that’s a quaint thought, isn’t it? In an election cycle dominated by discussion of trade policy and economic angst, the idea that the American manufacturing sector can be an engine for equitable growth may seem as contemporary as tail fins on an Oldsmobile.

But many cities are discovering that not only can manufacturing be a key part of building the urban economy, it can also be an engine for improving economic equity and supporting minority job creation. The sector still carries plenty of weight, employing 12 million workers and generating $2.1 trillion in GDP.

A new report called Prototyping Equity, released by the Equitable Innovation Economies Initiative (EIE), argues that supporting manufacturing can help cities solve a myriad of entrenched issues. Cities that make bolstering a "new breed of makers" an imperative can help kickstart new companies and create job in communities and neighborhoods left out of previous economic development initiatives. It’s a high-tech spin on small business support: supporting the innovation economy, with diversity as a goal, helps bridge traditional gaps in wages and tech employment in Black, Latino, Native American, and Southeast Asian communities.

Even more importantly for cities, urban manufacturing can help counter trends in land use, global trade, and technology that are eroding middle class jobs. Beginning in 2014, the EIE, a joint effort by the Pratt Center for Community Development along with PolicyLink and the Urban Manufacturing Alliance, launched pilot programs in four cities to explore how to seed equitable economic development in manufacturing. The different approaches taken by these cities offer a potential toolkit for cities seeking new job creation strategies.

Indianapolis: Reimagining a Manufacturing Hub for the 21st Century

As part of wider plans to push equity through community development, Indy officials zeroed in on the Mass Ave/Brookside Industrial Corridor as a fertile ground for redevelopment. A 480-acre industrial neighborhood northeast of downtown, the area fit the profile of many struggling manufacturing corridors, but officials and local developers zeroed-in on existing advantages—ready-to-use infrastructure, transportation access, and connections to the local workforce—and focused on the possibilities of advanced manufacturing. Riley Area Development Corporation (RADC), a non-profit developer, and Teagen Development are building out the Circle City Industrial Complex (CCIC), a gateway to the corridor, set inside a former automotive plant, set to contain metalworking companies, entertainment venues, and a makerspace called the Ruckus.

"We wanted to increase public access and engagement with the Corridor, to support existing manufacturers, and to grow small-scale manufacturing by lowering barriers to entry for craftsmen, inventors, and designers", says Eric Strickland, Executive Director of RADC, which owns the Ruckus.

Portland: Fostering Independent and Inclusive Growth

In a city not exactly known as a center of diversity, Portland has a rapidly growing community of color. To make sure new members of the community aren’t excluded from growing manufacturing jobs in tech, design, metals and machinery manufacturing, and athletic/outdoor gear, the city launched an Inclusive Entrepreneurship Action Plan to foster new leaders and support more diverse entrepreneurs.

To turn these laudable goals into concrete results, programs such as the Portland Tech Diversity Pledge encourage companies to seek and nurture new talent, while initiatives such as the Startup PDX Challenge support and fund early-stage companies and concepts from minority designers and developers. Last August, local and state government pooled together $750,000 to support the Inclusive Startup Fund and give even more early stage companies a boost.

New York: Protecting a Threatened Manufacturing Sector

While it’s an economic powerhouse across numerous sectors, New York still has a solid manufacturing sector, one that employs 15 percent of the private sector workforce. But New York’s economic success, which leads to skyrocketing rents and more and more new businesses crowding out industrial tenants, also threatens to cramp the city’s manufacturing muscle.

Last fall, the city pushed back with a 10-point action plan, which includes $115 million in city funding for initiatives such as new advanced manufacturing centers, industrial land use protections, and new business training and grants programs. One example, New York’s Next Top Makers, gives financial support and guidance for new advanced manufacturing concerns.

San Jose: Promoting Manufacturing in the Shadow of Silicon Valley

While this California city is at the epicenter of tech, more traditional manufacturing often gets short shrift in local policy discussions. But local statistics tell a different story; roughly 40,000, or one in four manufacturing jobs in the metro area are production-related roles such as assemblers, machinists and welders.

To build a sector that provides excellent job opportunities for the middle class and those without an advanced education, San Jose’s Office of Economic Development (OED) and the Mayor’s office have pushed a number of initiatives, such as industrial land use preservation, direct outreach to local manufacturers, and meetings with local industry groups such as the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Roundtable to make the case that keeping manufacturing local is vital to the local economy.

Part of that push also includes selling young workers on a future in the industry. Last year, Mayor Liccardo, along with the local organization work2Future, proposed a new concept, San Jose Works, a $1 million workforce program that would give at-risk youth with five week of paid summer work at local firms, such as Jabil. The program offers a blueprint for introducing teens and twentysomethings into a different part of the tech sector.