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Made in Washington: Encouraging Local Industries

Contrary to popular opinion, the U.S. is still the top manufacturing nation in the world. And there is renewed interest here in local industries, driven by the rising costs of doing business in China, global fuel costs, the appeal of customized, local products, and just-in-time delivery of goods.[i]

Across the U.S., a new form of light industrial use is emerging that emphasizes locally made and produced goods (not unlike the emphasis on local food). Cities are recognizing the need to adopt land use policies and zoning regulations that encourage “makers” type activities, such as furniture making, software design, microbreweries, and innovative small-scale, low-impact types of uses.  The creative “maker movement” has been gaining traction in many urban areas and in small communities.

The “maker” culture includes engineering-oriented activities, such as software design, electronics, and robotics, as well as more traditional pursuits, such as woodworking, metal working, and arts and crafts. Startup tech industries have led the way in the maker movement, but they are only a part of the picture, which includes artisanal activities like traditional crafts and a variety of creative pursuits.

“Makerspaces” or “hackerspaces” are places where people come together to create, collaborate, fabricate, and share. These are locations/facilities where individuals and small businesses can share tools and collectively invest in equipment that no one maker would be able to afford on his or her own. Makerspaces are similar to community centers in that they serve as gathering places, but for entrepreneurs - places where people can engage in the process of making in a socially oriented production environment. They may include co-working space, small incubator spaces for businesses, machine shops, studios, and meeting rooms. Incubators are facilities designed to promote the growth of startup companies through business support resources and services, including physical space, common services, and networking connections.

Makerspaces can help to revive urban centers that have lost earlier industrial activity. These community workshops often involve the reuse of old industrial buildings such as warehouses and factories.

How Can Communities Support and Contribute to the Makers Movement?

Makers industries can promote local economic development and contribute to a city’s vitality and character. What community would not like to be known for its creative, innovative, and diverse economy, spurred by makers-type activities?

First, a community needs areas where these types of industries can locate, grow, and flourish.  Cities can adopt comprehensive plan policies and land use designations that address types of activities and locations for makers enterprises.  Appropriate zoning for these new types of industrial uses may involve revisions to traditional light industrial zones, new commercial-industrial mixed-use zones, or special zones, like San Francisco’s PDR (Production/Distribution/Repair) zoning.

A recent article in Planning magazine, “Making Way for 'Makers,'" highlights some of the cities that are addressing makers industries.  Back in the 1990s, San Francisco recognized the need to provide space for start-up tech industries in locations where land was becoming increasingly unaffordable.  The city adopted a PDR zone that restricted uses to production, distribution, and repair activities. More recently, the city has expanded the types of uses allowed in the zone to permit offices, since offices may be located in tandem with PDR ventures. A local advocacy organization, SFMade, promotes policies and regulations that support local industries, and a small manufacturing incubator called TechShop, started in the Bay Area in 2006, now plans locations in Seattle and Portland.

Other cities, such as Philadelphia, have developed new mixed-use zones that encourage new small-scale manufacturing uses. In Philadelphia’s new zoning code, the city has added Industrial Commercial Mixed Use (ICMX) and Industrial Residential Mixed Use (IRMX) zones that allow live-work spaces. Wilmington, N.C., has a new Urban Mixed-Use (UMX) district that allows uses like craft breweries in disused manufacturing areas.

As part of a land use study of Seattle’s Interbay Area, the city has been considering a new PDR zone similar to San Francisco’s.  And Kirkland has Light Industrial Technology (LIT) Zones that emphasize new technology as well as more traditional light industrial uses.

Makerspaces have already arrived in the Northwest. Makerhaus in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, has a wood shop, metal shop, 3D printing and laser machines, and an electronics lab, and it offers community classes. Others include the MAKERS space in downtown Seattle, a high-tech workshop - FabLab - in Tacoma, and Bellingham’s HackSpace.

Other things cities can do to encourage makers to locate in their community include permitting assistance, business and technical assistance, and targeted economic development programs. Stay tuned for more on industrial uses in the 21st century.

Additional Resources

Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, by Chris Anderson, Crown Business, 2012 – Anderson is the former editor of Wired magazine (book available for purchase).

Makers in Spaces: The rise of new manufacturing and its role in placemaking, posted by Thinking City, May 29, 2013.

Making Way for 'Makers': Manufacturing is Alive and Well in the U.S.,” by JoAnn Greco, Planning, February 2014 – Discusses innovative zoning for makers activities in several cities. (Copyright 2014 by the American Planning Association. Reprinted by permission of Planning magazine.)

“Mr. China Comes to America,” by James Fallows, The Atlantic, December 2012 – Predicts the rise of manufacturing in the U.S.

The Role of Policymakers in the Emerging “Maker Movement,” Initiative for a Competitive Inner City –Suggests actions cities can take to encourage makers activities in their communities.

San Francisco Planning Code Sections 210.7 –210.11 regarding PDR Districts. See also subsequent Sections 213-227 regarding permitted uses.
Photo MAKERS Co-working Space in Downtown Seattle. Courtesy of Will Foster.

[i] “Launching a Makers and Manufacturing Cluster in Oakland,” by Margot Lederer Prado, Planning, APA, February 2014.

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Photo of Carol Tobin

About Carol Tobin

Carol served as one of MRSC's Planning Consultants and wrote about a wide variety of local government planning issues. She is now retired.