The Maker Movement and Urban Economic Development

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Journal of the American Planning Association

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Problem, research strategy, and findings: The maker movement is placing small-scale manufacturing development on mayoral agendas across the United States and promises to reinvigorate production economies in central cities. To make effective policy, planners need more knowledge about the entrepreneurs at the center of this phenomenon. Here we present a qualitative investigation of urban maker economies. We draw on semistructured interviews with firms and supportive organizations in Chicago (IL), New York City (NY), and Portland (OR). A limitation of our approach stems from the unavailability of population parameters; we cannot confirm that our sample reflects the universe of maker enterprises. We find that makers draw on ecosystems comprising mainly for-profit firms. The public and nonprofit sectors are important in areas where markets do not provide the resources that fledgling makers require. We find 3 distinct types of maker enterprise: micromakers, global innovators, and emerging place-based manufacturers. Each makes a different contribution to local and regional economic development. Takeaway for practice: Planners can maximize the potential of the maker movement by distinguishing among the 3 types of maker firms. Practitioners focused on employment creation should prioritize emerging place-based manufacturers, helping them build supply chain connections and ensuring that they have affordable space into which to expand. Artisanal micromakers also generate economic benefits, as do global innovators focused on product design and prototyping. But emerging place-based manufacturers have the highest potential for employment creation, both directly and via the business growth they stimulate.



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