December 6, 2017

How Knoxville is helping local makers launch businesses by doing what they love best

Nonprofit and city leaders come together to support artist entrepreneurs in Tennessee

Metalwork artisan Preston Farabow at Ironwood Studios in Knoxville. Photo by Loch & Key Productions

What do you get when you combine a mayor willing to invest in small-scale manufacturing businesses, a strong entrepreneurship nonprofit, a great partnership with the local Urban League, and a city with developable property?

You get The Maker City in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Knoxville is a city focused on keeping small-scale manufacturing near downtown to help revitalize neighborhoods. It’s a city focused on Made in PLACE.

This past July and September, I had the exciting opportunity to work with this combined team in Knoxville. The city benefits from leadership in the public and private sectors coming together to support and create space for local maker businesses. And the city is becoming known as a place to land because of the nonprofit and municipal support for these businesses and the strong personal support between the maker business owners.

What are they doing right?

1. Mayor’s vocal support–Mayor Madeline Rogero voices her support for this business community and created the Mayor’s Maker Council to convene leaders of this sector regularly, support their own network, and get their input on city policies. The maker business owners on the Council are strong leaders within their business community and work together to build a strong and broad Knoxville maker network.

2. Ongoing training–Both the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center and the Knoxville Urban League host boot camp trainings for entrepreneurs based on the program created by CO.STARTERS. Local residents can learn the business side of creating a maker business over a series of weeks and understand the details before investing significant time and money. The training also helps bring new people into the existing maker network in the community.

3. Developer investment–Local real estate developers recognize that Knoxville has a cool factor from these small production businesses. A number of developers are building space for small production businesses to stay in neighborhoods near downtown.

What can others learn from this?

Knoxville in one of the many cities featured in our new report: Made in PLACE. The report shows how many communities, from large cities and counties to small towns, are beginning to recognize the opportunity around small-scale manufacturing. Elected leaders, economic development officials, real estate developers and other partners understand that this sector builds businesses and job opportunity from within the community. This coordinated effort gives us a chance to build a business community across racial and ethnic lines and bring together entrepreneurs who may come from different backgrounds but all speak the language of small manufacturing. And when we think strategically about where to PLACE these businesses, we can harness their power to strengthen our neighborhoods from within.

Check out all the details in Made in PLACE.

This essay first appeared on Recast City’s blog.

Ilana Preuss

Recast City

Ilana Preuss is the founder of Recast City, which brings together small-scale manufacturers and community developers to strengthen neighborhoods, build value in real estate, and create job opportunities for residents. With nearly 20 years of experience in city development, Preuss works with local leaders to go from idea to plan to action to build great places. Preuss is an experienced speaker, see her TEDx presentation, “The Economic Power of Great Places,” and her presentation “The Coming Revolution: Small-Scale Urban Industrial Development” at Meeting of the Minds. She is a regular press spokesperson featured in the New York Times and USA Today.