A gathering of Maker Movement mavens and advocates of urban re-industrialization called Oakland home and celebrated our city’s diverse and growing arts and maker scene.
The Urban Manufacturing Alliance (UMA) Convening included tours of Oakland manufacturers like Linden Brewery and Rolls Royce Engine Services and conference sessions at Preservation Park and OACC focused on land use, workforce development, innovation districts and the future of urban manufacturing. The Convening kicked off with a celebration at The Crucible, a non-profit center for arts and industry.
SFMade and the Pratt Center for Community Development (in New York) are the pioneers in urban manufacturing reinvention movement and both organizations have worked to develop and share a model for manufacturing incubation that other cities can use to spur local manufacturing sectors in those cities.
One of the trends discussed in the conference sessions was the growth of Maker Cities as “crucibles of the future.” This is because these cities have industrial space, an innovative and arts friendly culture, and can be agile in the use of new technology. Several delegates acknowledged that Oakland was joining this group of new manufacturing innovator cities.
Oakland was a focus
Just before the UMA gathering, the Kaufmann Foundation awarded UMA a $150,000 grant to continue its work in re-invigorating manufacturing in cities and helping to create jobs. The Kaufmann grant will accelerate the organization’s capacity to grow and support domestic and urban manufacturing and also underwrites some of the costs of the conference.
Delegate Lesa Mitchell, the Vice President for Innovation at the Kaufmann Foundation, explained the value of UMA this way:
“The Kaufmann Foundation is interested in the roots of entrepreneurship which is why we fund something like Code for America, because we saw that opening up data would open up opportunities for people,” Mitchell said. ” Then we met with SF Made and New York Made and recognized that the Maker movement was taking off and it was moving from someone making something in their house to founding companies with a presence on the internet that could be successful.”
According to Mitchell, “The UMA gathering is important because its a grassroots movement of people working in cities and rediscovering manufacturing. And it is important to have the UMA as an association of local groups and cities that could come together and focus on policy barriers and implementation issues and how to grow this movement. The reason it’s important to hold this gathering in Oakland instead of San Francisco or New York is that we can be in a place like this (gesturing around the Crucible space) where people are learning how to DO the things we are talking about. Oakland is just an awesome example of a community rediscovering its [manufacturing] roots.”
Mayor Jean Quan, who welcomed UMA delegates at The Crucible kickoff event, also spoke to this theme of rediscovery: “The UMA is a network of 34 cities with common goals,” said Quan. “Oakland has tried to maintain blue-collar industrial areas around the city. That’s why we invest in the Port of Oakland and why we try to keep our warehouses and many small manufacturers to maintain those types of jobs.”
“If you want to have a diverse population,” Quan added, “you need to have a diverse economy with many kinds of jobs. That’s why this is important [that UMA is meeting in Oakland]. We know that 80 percent of the economy comes from Metro centers, so the way the cities go is the way the economy goes.”
At the session, Quan asked how many delegates would still be in Oakland on Friday night, then invited them to participate in our First Friday Art Murmur. Most raised their hands. She said First Friday was a “phenomena” that was a little bit like Mardi Gras, and got an enthusiastic response from Oaklanders at the reception.
Founder and director of The Crucible, Steven Young also welcomed the UMA delegates. He said he was proud that the Crucible was one of the founding organizations of Oakland Makers. “Oakland Makers has the mission of helping working artists and small manufacturers have the opportunity to succeed as businesses.”
Young mentioned that the Crucible holds classes with 2000-3000 young people every year and also provides about $100,000 a year in youth scholarships.
Margot Lederer Prado, a city staffer who works on Oakland’s economic development, was proud that the annual UMA event was being held in Oakland. “This year the Conference was held in Oakland, selected both for its strength historically as a manufacturing center, but also [due to its] renaissance in small artisan and specialty manufacturing. Oakland was also selected due to its characteristics, shared with many other UMA member cities, with challenges in a diverse population, a large low-income working class, older industrial building stock and challenges in infrastructure,” said Prado. “Cities such as Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Tucson, Allentown and Philadelphia PA, and Detroit also share such characteristics.”
Prado added, “Oakland also is an attractive city, especially with its position on the waterfront, and with the other renaissance of downtown dining, and the character of the facilities, downtown neighborhoods and buildings (the conference was held at Preservation Park and Oakland Asian Cultural Center) meant a small conference could take advantage of creative venues .”
Prado and Hiroko Kurihara of the 25th St Collective helped in the creation of the UMA.
The first UMA gathering was held last year in New York with more than 50 delegates attending. In their own words, “UMA is a national collaborative of non-profit, for-profit and governmental stakeholders working together to grow urban manufacturing, create living wage jobs and catalyze sustainable local economies.”
That support for creating well-paying jobs is also a recipe for rebuilding the middle class in many cities across the US. UMA and their member organizations aim to do this via “re-shoring” production, and using start-up companies to bring new products to market. Cities can lead and support this return of manufacturing by helping to enable innovation and reducing challenges such as competition for scarce land and dealing with obsolete infrastructure.
Kate Sofis, Executive Director of SFMade, said manufacturing in San Francisco has been growing dramatically, adding more than 12.5 percent net new jobs in 2012. “Revitalizing our manufacturing sector is at the center of our nation’s economic policy,” she said.
Developing Best Practices
Those who attended the UMA gathering came to share best practices and learn from each other while developing a voice in national policy discussions.
One interesting talk on growing and supporting Innovation Districts was led by Sal Di Stefano of the Boston Redevelopment Authority.
Boston does have innovation district program that is successful. “But don’t be a victim of your own success,” Di Stefano said. He gave an example of artists and green manufacturers losing their low cost leases when a law firm located in the hip surroundings and paid $40 per square foot, forcing many innovator firms out of the building.
Di Stefano used that as an example for his main point, that the creation of arts and innovation districts is not enough. To sustain the businesses that build the character of these neighborhoods, these special districts need permanent zoning that prevents them from being gentrified out of existence.
He also called for funding and support BIDs – Business Improvement Districts – for arts neighborhoods and new industrial areas. These can provide a political and economic counterweight to the influence of housing and retail developers and can sustain the businesses and jobs within their borders.
Other speakers also called on Maker cities to conserve precious industrial zones and resist efforts to turn warehouses into lofts and apartments. City governments get a short term infusion of revenue from these conversions, but the costs for infrastructure and public services, including safety, are ongoing. As manufacturing grows, so do jobs and so do city revenues.
Usually, city governments have taken the lead in efforts to revitalize neighborhoods and business districts. but with the financial collapse and resultant budget cuts, and glacial city bureaucracy, many people are looking for alternative models of economic development. Di Stefano said BIDs can play a major role, seeking grants and funding on their own, and working on bond measures.
Di Stefano has been to Oakland before and was happy to be back. He didn’t think crime was a problem in the areas he has visited and told Oakland Local, “The weather is great, food is great, and its beautiful here.”
Other delegates from Detroit, Indianapolis, Tucson and other cities also appreciated the temperate weather and the diverse cultures and architecture of Oakland.
See all images in the event album here.