The Maker Economy in Action

Posted December 6, 2016

In the context of renewed efforts to boost U.S. manufacturing since the 2007-09 recession, the maker movement has captured the imaginations of policy makers and commanded attention and resources at the White House and in city halls across the nation. CUR Visiting Research Scholar Laura Wolf-Powers is the lead author on this report, which provides first-of-its-kind evidence on the locally embedded business enterprises fueling the maker phenomenon, and on the institutional ecosystems that support them in three cities: New York City, Chicago, Illinois, and Portland, Oregon. The report was funded by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and co-authored with collaborators at Portland State University and the University of Illinois.

Maker ecosystems and local economic development

The term “making” (which refers to the design and fabrication of products, often making use of newly accessible technologies such as 3-D printing, CNC carving tools, or printed circuit boards) describes a range of activity undertaken by learners, do-it-yourselfers and businesspeople, in community centers, classrooms, public library branches, and factories. Of greatest significance to urban policy makers is the emergence of maker-entrepreneurs, place-based production enterprises that integrate design and production in creating goods for sale. Confidence in the proposition that making can help revive and diversify cities’ economies animates a host of efforts, from the White House Nation of Makers initiative to local initiatives organized under the umbrella of the Urban Manufacturing Alliance, with 475 members in 130 cities.

This research, funded by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation through its Urban and Metropolitan Entrepreneurship research program, provides new information about makers as entrepreneurs. The work fills an important gap: it accounts for makers’ motives, goals, and challenges they face in moving from ideas to consumer products. It also reveals the workings of the varied organizations and policies that create and sustain maker-entrepreneurs at the urban and regional scale.

Read the full paper