By: Ilana Preuss

Reprinted with permission by Next City The League has tapped Ilana Preuss’ expertise on fostering a local small-scale manufacturing sector in past years through Convention and webinar sessions. By fusing placemaking, local business development, and bottom-up economic stability, Ilana’s work has been one of our reference points as the League has refined our own frame of community wealth building. While this reprinted article uses the term “city,” small-scale manufacturing is a sector that can benefit cities, villages, and townships of all sizes—and can be especially important for smaller communities that aren’t able to attract larger business relocations.

W hen community leaders in Columbia, Highway 40 serves as the entrance to Columbia but has been neglected for decades. Local small businesses were few, and struggling. Leaders organized conversations with neighbors to understand what types of businesses were currently in the region, what the community wanted, and how this effort could contribute to broader city priorities. They soon learned Missouri, first set out to revitalize The Loop, the prospects felt daunting. This stretch of

that one particular type of business held an uncommonly powerful potential to support transformation. Small-scale manufacturers like Claysville Creations and Heartland Soapworks were selling products online as well as in retail spaces, creating jobs, and—most crucially—attracting visitors who want to buy products right where they’re made. The project team realized these would be perfect businesses to be among the first to build a destination in The Loop. Because they sell online, they don’t depend on foot traffic, but still create a reason for people to visit and stay awhile. Small-scale manufacturers produce anything from textiles to hardware to beer or coffee and more. Unlike large manufacturers, they fit into relatively small square footage and are clean, quiet neighbors. They are well-positioned to compete in the digital economy, but also fill storefronts and contribute to a thriving downtown or business district. They create jobs at a variety of skill levels, and it’s often women, immigrants, and Black, Latino or other business owners of color at their helm. Many owners operate these businesses out of their homes or garages at first, so your neighborhood might be home to small-scale manufacturers already. More small cities are making small-scale manufacturing a priority in their economic development plans—to not only create these businesses but also encourage them to scale. For example, South Bend, Indiana, created Scaling Up! South Bend, a city-sponsored program to help existing businesses grow and build the pipeline of new businesses in the community. And leaders in Bellflower, CA are actively working to nurture their local small-scale manufacturers, including a fashion designer, fabricator, and a brewery/BBQ restaurant that also produces sauce for sale. Over the last several years I’ve talked with mayors, economic development professionals, planning directors, and city managers across the country about how to grow a strong local economy and vibrant downtown.

Recast Your City: How to Save Your Downtown with Small-Scale Manufacturing by Ilana Preuss is out now! In it, Preuss shows how communities across the country can build strong local businesses through small-scale manufacturing, reinvest in their downtowns, and create inclusive economic opportunity. Her book gives you a five-step method of success and case studies that showcase concrete examples from her work in cities across the country. Grab your copy from the publisher, Island Press, for 20 percent off with code RECAST at checkout. Or support a local bookstore and get the book from Bookshop. Preuss, Ilana. Recast Your City: How to Save Your Downtown with Small-Scale Manufacturing (Washington, DC: Island Press, 2021).




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