Civic News

Can small-scale manufacturing bring DC’s downtown back? This expert thinks so.

The Locally Made Manufacturing Grant Program is a $500,00 investment in small-scale manufacturing businesses. DC's Ilana Preuss breaks down why it's crucial for economic recovery.

The John A. Wilson building in DC.

(Photo via Flickr user Tim Evanson)

With a new grant program, DC is making an investment in local makers.

The Locally Made Manufacturing Grant Program — also known as Locally Made — is a new program from the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development for investment in small-scale manufacturing. The city has $500,000 set aside for grants for local businesses to grow the city’s local economy.

According to the city, an increasing need to manufacture and procure local consumer goods motivated the grant program’s creation.

“Locally Made incentivizes and bolsters the Great Streets initiative to grow the District’s local small business economy and bolster neighborhoods with inadequate access to retail opportunities,” the city’s website said. “The purpose of the Great Streets initiative is to transform certain designated emerging commercial corridors into thriving, walkable, shoppable and inviting neighborhood experiences.”

Founder and CEO Ilana Preuss of Recast City, a DC-based organization that helps bring small-scale manufacturing to downtowns and storefronts, is excited about the potential in the district. Small-scale manufacturing, she said, occurs from any business creating a tangible good that can be packaged or replicated (her go-to description is “hardware, handbags and hot sauce”). This can be anything from a single artisan creating products at home and selling online to a 50-person operation in a production space using all kinds of materials.

This new grant, she told Technical.ly, recognizes that small-scale manufacturing is compatible with other storefronts in the city and increases equity among creators.

Ilana Preuss. (Courtesy photo)

“I do think that the city recognizes that more access for small product businesses is, in fact, helping the city achieve more equitable economic outcomes,” Preuss said. “People make stuff from every different population — across race, ethnicity, income, immigrant status, you name it, we have a history and heritage of making things. So the city has recognized that this is an important component to create more equitable outcomes within local economic investments.”

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But while she believes the industry can create good-paying jobs, she noted that many get priced out of DC — particularly when the time comes to find a larger storefront or production space. With the grant program, she said, the city is making a significant investment in the sector and ensuring there is affordable space so that the industry can stay in DC.

According to Preuss, manufacturing businesses pay, on average, 50 to 100% more in salaries than retail or service employers. With the amount of current income inequity, she thinks offering more high-paying opportunities, and investing in this space, is an important part of boosting overall wealth. She added that small-scale manufacturing is a great neighbor for local businesses: People love to watch how things are made, and anything being made in front of a window often draws people inside.

“It’s important to make sure that we’re not only maintaining seats for this sector, but creating incentives for the sector with that equitable outcome,” Preuss said. “If we want to create more good-paying jobs for more people in the city, this is one of the key ways to get there.”

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