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DC / Economics / Manufacturing / Small businesses

Wait, why is Ilana Preuss pushing for small-scale manufacturing?

The author of "Recast Your City" believes that the economic intervention could help strengthen communities beyond the manufacturers that might employ their residents.

Ilana Preuss. (Courtesy photo)
Update: This article has been updated with video of Preuss's conversation with CEO Chris Wink. (6/1/2022, 9:55 a.m.)

At least one DC-area CEO believes that small-scale manufacturing offers a way to bring more middle-income jobs and an active downtown to every community.

“We’re helping businesses scale deep into the community and be a part of the community,” said Ilana Preuss, whose organization Recast City advocates for and partners with local stakeholders to promote local manufacturing. 

Preuss’s beliefs, which mirror those underscoring the district’s Locally Made Manufacturing Grant Program,  put a modern spin on historical precedent. Manufacturing was once heavily concentrated in US city centers. Throughout the 20th century, smelly and dirty facilities that made goods began to spread outside of cities — and, as manufacturers increasingly outsourced that work abroad, the country. Advocates like Preuss are looking to change that dynamic, in tandem with the evolving nature of manufacturing.

For supporters of small-scale domestic manufacturing like Preuss (who also made our 2022 RealLIST Connectors roster), the possibility of increased jobs is a boon. A solid middle class supports businesses and sustains consumption, and as income inequality steadily grows, many researchers believe that the US needs middle-income jobs like never before. According to Pew Research Center, the country’s shared income has slowly shifted into the wealthiest residents’ hands (defined as those whose household incomes are at least double the national median) over the past near-half-century. The US middle class considerably shrank during that same timeframe. Preuss believes that we can help fix this and give downtowns a new “draw.” 

Small-scale manufacturing incorporates a business model that can produce a tangible product with about 1 to 50 employees. Preuss, who also explores these concepts in her book, “Recast Your City: How to Save Your Downtown with Small-Scale Manufacturing,” believes in providing more support to those companies lacking the capacity to offer thousands of jobs. She believes that focusing on hiring locally and paying well will reap benefits that ripple well beyond the company doing the hiring, she believes.

“We need a solution that helps the rest of the community — especially when we’re looking at communities where they haven’t had an opportunity,” she explained. “From my perspective, when we’re looking at community economic development, it’s a no-brainer to go at these local, small-scale manufacturing businesses that can scale deep,”

Now, after decades of digital-powered economic growth, Preuss argues that US cities need to invest in a new generation of market development. It’s a kind of growth that helps communities grow and stay vibrant in new ways, she says.

“I believe that every community deserves to have a main street or a downtown that is loved. And we don’t have that everywhere,” she said. “The innovation is often the people.”

Preuss explains more of her views on small-scale manufacturing in this interview with CEO Chris Wink:

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