June in Baltimore — spring sunshine turns to summer swelter, a new day brings a new neighborhood festival, and local makers start to eye the fast-approaching holiday season. Oh, and this year, Made in Baltimore hosted a three-day gathering of local and national leaders of economic development to evaluate Charm City’s small-scale manufacturing industry.
About a year earlier, Made in Baltimore sought a technical assistance grant from Smart Growth America (SGA), a D.C.-based nonprofit which seeks to create prosperity in communities through technical assistance and advocacy. SGA sought applications from cities in need of assistance on neighborhood revitalization. MiB focused on expanding access to affordable production space in three neighborhoods with high concentrations of small manufacturing companies but also faced development pressure for other uses: Carroll-Camden, Jones Falls Valley and Highlandtown/Greektown.
Baltimore was the largest of six cities which SGA chose from a pool of 64 applicants. After the announcement last fall, MiB got to work organizing a months-long collaboration which would come together in June, when members of the SGA technical assistance team visited for a firsthand look at Baltimore’s urban manufacturing.
Through meetings with city officials, developers, entrepreneurs and community members, the SGA team engaged in meaningful discussion about the challenges facing Baltimore’s economic development and heard the needs of people doing the groundwork in their local neighborhoods. Leaders of the Baltimore Development Corporation rubbed shoulders with over a dozen Made in Baltimore makers in meetings at Impact Hub Baltimore, Monument City Brewing, and in production spaces around the city where local makers bring their products to life.
All this culminated in a recently-released report, in which SGA recognizes Baltimore’s potential to be a national leader of economic progress by fostering a thriving city-wide industry for local makers.
The report calls Baltimore “a classic rust-belt city that, despite the post-industrial fallout of the 1970s and 80s, is undergoing a powerful revival” which, it adds, “is thanks, in part, to a renewed interest in the creative and inventive culture inherent to Baltimoreans.” It surveys the city’s historic loss of big manufacturing jobs, deep racial and income inequality, and development pressure on areas like Jones Falls Valley, where many production spaces have fallen into disrepair and are being converted into residences.
Through feedback from interviews conducted during the site-visit, SGA outlines challenges that Baltimore leadership must address to clear the way for healthy economic development. These include lack of accessible space, unconsolidated resources for local entrepreneurs, and uncertainty for businesses in rapidly changing neighborhoods.
Made in Baltimore already seeks to address these challenges by supporting small, product-based businesses with resources and development opportunities, as well as bringing attention to the need for affordable maker space demonstrated by our 200 member businesses.
The report offers eight recommendations to embed support for space and programming for small-scale manufacturers into the city’s economic development ethos. These include strategies related to space, like protecting buildings zoned for light industrial use and incentivizing redevelopment of new industrial properties. Other recommendations concern administrative and financial support for small businesses, like creating a one-stop shop for development services or advocating for local and state policy changes to ease artisan production.
Despite the long road ahead before Baltimore reaches its full economic potential, the report acknowledges the remarkable dedication and perseverance of the city’s entrepreneurial and artistic talent (something we at Made in Baltimore see day after day).
Alongside a survey of the challenges facing the city, SGA also highlights its assets and successes. First on the list? Motivated, diverse and passionate business owners and creative, do-it-yourself pride among Baltimoreans. It also points to the city’s booming entrepreneurial ecosystem, stoked by growing interested in industrial space from local developers and existing financial support programs that work to build prosperity.
“People interviewed for this initiative clearly see the potential for small-scale manufacturing businesses to help achieve this prosperity, bring pride back to more people and its potential for prosperity, and build wealth across the city’s divisions,” the report concludes. “With a coordinated effort and investment, these outcomes can be achieved.”