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Seattle Made: Celebrating the City’s Makers and Entrepreneurs

Launched through a collaboration by local business and community organizations, Seattle Made expands opportunities for local business ownership, creates jobs, and showcases local innovation.

By Local Economy Fellow Christine Hanna

Like any good localist, I love my place. My colleagues and I spend a lot of time thinking about what a 21st century Seattle should look like. We know it must include a commitment to sustainability. But sustainability is more than smart transport, energy-efficient buildings, and widespread recycling. It must also address equity, diversity, and creativity to ensure our long-term resilience. And what role is played by the economy, specifically manufacturing?

A fundamental one, it turns out. Producing locally – from food and energy to materials and consumer products – means a more diverse and secure base of living wage jobs, more fertile ground for entrepreneurs, and enormous opportunities to reduce the environmental impact of production and distribution.

Seattle is home to a number of formidable global brands, and global trade is significant driver of our economy. And yet, like many U.S. cities, we are at risk of developing a pronounced “hourglass economy” with concentrations of highly paid professionals and low-wage service workers, but a missing middle.

To address this, we need to nurture a vibrant and diverse sector of locally owned manufacturing and production businesses. These businesses are key to keeping and growing family-wage jobs, and to preserving our cultural identity and community vitality.

Democratizing the Innovation Economy
Across the country, a confluence of demography, culture, and technology have come together to generate a new brand of urban manufacturers that are both fueling and democratizing the innovation economy. From a reimagining of the basics—artisanal food and drink, apparel, crafts—to maker spaces where everyday entrepreneurs are tapping into the seemingly unlimited potential of additive (3-D) manufacturing, a new wave of innovators are building companies and reinventing long-standing sectors.

A growing number of grassroots coalitions such as SF MadePortland MadePratt Center for Community Development have sprung up to support and accelerate these trends. In San Francisco, SF Made has reported annual job growth of 10-13 percent among urban manufacturers during the four short years they’ve been working to support this sector.

Seattle Made: Local, Resilient, Unique
Inspired by their success, over the past few months we’ve been working with a coalition of local businesses and organizations to launch Seattle Made.

Seattle Made’s objectives include expanding opportunities for local ownership and meaningful employment (especially for our city’s low-to-moderate income individuals with less typical skillsets), building our region’s long-term resiliency, and celebrating Seattle’s unique cultural identity. A cornerstone of the program will be the Seattle Made brand, which will reflect our innovative and independent spirit, and our collective stewardship of our urban and natural environment.

Once the brand is launched and a critical mass of local producers are at the table, we can seize opportunities to reshape our future, like repurposing moribund or underutilized industrial lands and buildings into vibrant manufacturing and production hubs – such as BlueSprout in Oakland and the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York. These collaborative spaces generate the social, material, intellectual, and financial resources to train workers, incubate new businesses, and accelerate existing ones.

As the fastest growing major city in the U.S., and one that is known for its smarts and sustainability, Seattle has the opportunity to be a global leader in reimagining what the city of the future looks like. If our local businesses, entrepreneurs, city, port, and other public and private institutions work together, in ten years we could have multiple, thriving innovation districts from the Duwamish to Interbay to Rainier Beach.

If as a city we truly value economic fairness, our independence, and our finite natural resources, we must intentionally cultivate a diverse economic ecosystem that includes a vibrant urban manufacturing sector and those makers who foster opportunities for meaningful employment and steward this beautiful place we’re lucky to call home.