Economic development the DIY way


Our community has always been known for making things. It’s part of our history. From gas pumps to televisions, our region has a long tradition of innovation and production – a legacy we should proudly promote as we continue to support a growing “maker culture” in Northeast Indiana.

The “maker” movement is a growing influence on the American economy and becoming a large factor in the advancement and sustainability of many large and medium-sized cities. Spaces dedicated to this trend have dramatically increased the number of “makerspaces,” “fab labs” and tech incubators throughout the country. In the process, the movement has also redefined the role civic institutions, most notably public libraries, can play in the advancement of innovation at the local level.

The excitement surrounding this discussion is heightened by the speed in which ideas, products and companies can react to the market. The tools needed to create products are now accessible to just about anyone. This unprecedented level of access has not only changed how cities are considering business incubation, but it also has shifted the way in which they are attracting and retaining creative entrepreneurs. In a recent Atlantic Magazine article, Jules Pieri, CEO of product-launch platform The Grommet, attributes this shift to three “enablers”:

Makerspaces: There are over 2,000 makerspaces around the world providing communities with access to expensive equipment (e.g., 3D printers). More importantly, these places also provide access to people who can explain how to operate such equipment. Fort Wayne is off to a good start with TekVenture’s now relocating from Broadway to two maker labs in our public libraries (the main library downtown and the Georgetown branch) and at least one more coming together on Fairfield Avenue.

Crowdfunding: Typified by Kickstarter, the crowdfunding movement went from $1 billion in 2011 to $14 billion by 2014. The ability to virtually promote innovations and seek micro-investors has redefined entrepreneurs’ access to capital and empowered them to compete on a global scale no matter their location. This funding mechanism is already in use here by organizations ranging from Neighborlink to arts groups and projects, and local attorneys mention crowdfunding among their areas of specialty practice.

Local retailers: Local retailers are “the life blood of the maker movement.” It’s where makers “get their sea legs,” allowing them to develop their consumer base gradually. This relationship not only supports locally-made goods, but it also allows makers the ability to tie their brand to the local community.

Placemaking is critical to the success of a vibrant maker culture. Like in all good creative ecosystems, these cultures thrive when they leverage the economic, physical and networking assets of the community. Increasingly, incubators, accelerators, startups and makerspaces are clustering around leading companies in dense urban settings to form “innovation districts.”

These areas, as outlined in The Brookings Institute’s recent study, “have the unique potential to spur productive, inclusive and sustainable economic development. At a time of sluggish growth, they provide a strong foundation for the creation and expansion of firms and jobs by helping companies, entrepreneurs, universities, researchers and investors – across sectors and disciplines – co-invent and co-produce new discoveries for the market.” As an engaging district, they “build on and revalue the intrinsic qualities of cities: proximity, density, authenticity, and vibrant places.”

The maker culture is an outgrowth of a community’s creative habits. The culture creates places inspired by our own curiosities and sustained by our dedication to craft.

Good places reward imagination, consistently making places for makerspaces.

First appeared in the February 2017 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.


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