Big Focus on Small-Scale Manufacturing

Big Focus on Small-Scale Manufacturing

Small-scale manufacturing is the name of the game in many Hoosier communities at the moment. Often overshadowed by larger industrialized firms, smaller makers are now gaining attention as being advantageous for community development. They’ve been experiencing a renaissance as cities and towns look to fill their vacant downtown properties with manufacturing operations that are just the right fit.


First Waves

The small-scale trend started picking up steam in Indiana a few years ago after the City of South Bend was awarded a unique technical assistance grant to support small-scale manufacturing. The funds came from Smart Growth America, a national urban development nonprofit. The plan was to find ways to eliminate barriers for entrepreneurs so communities could leverage small-scale manufacturing to create economic opportunity.

At the time, Chris Zimmerman, vice president of economic development at Smart Growth America, said, “Small-scale manufacturing, which generally includes entrepreneurial, specialized, and boutique-style manufacturing operations, has emerged as a new tool for economic development in urban areas.”


Today’s Surge

The focus on small-scale manufacturing has grown rapidly over the last few months. Advancements in technology like 3D printing, additive manufacturing, and computer-controlled machining have effectively made factories smaller and cleaner. This makes them well suited to fill vacancies in many Hoosier cities and towns, which has piqued the interest of economic development organizations.

Two such development groups recently teamed up to introduce a new initiative intended to bring small-scale manufacturing to new downtown areas. Bedford-based Radius Indiana is working with the South Central Indiana Small Business Development Center (Indiana SBDC) to boost small-scale firms in the downtown areas of Crawford, Daviess, Dubois, Greene, Martin, Orange, Lawrence, and Washington counties.

The program is called Recast City and it is part of a national economic development effort aimed at building strong local economies. Five Indiana communities have begun a yearlong cohort to learn about downtown revitalization, including the towns of Orleans and Odon, and the cities of Washington, Salem, and Loogootee.

As explained by Recast City, “The program is aligned to assets in each community, which can support enterprises from a microbrewery, to coffee roastery, to candle making. The program will impact a minimum of four enterprises as the communities implement their strategy to have a small-scale manufacturer in their downtown areas.”

“The Town of Orleans has a beautiful town square with several buildings that are empty, and with the Recast program’s leadership, we hope to find a suitable match with a potential small manufacturing client,” said Randy Clark, president of the Orleans Town Council.

One of the highlights of the initiative is that it may impact multiple businesses in each area served. Small-scale manufacturing often involves clusters of businesses working together to produce a tangible product, so the benefits could reach more than one company. There are many that would qualify too. The Radius region is home to over 6,000 small businesses, approximately 80 percent of all businesses in the eight counties. These firms employ about 35,000 workers.

“Rural communities are often left out of economic recoveries, and this program is a ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ approach that shows that when we all work together, economic prosperity is possible. We’re excited to see the resulting business enterprises in downtowns throughout the region,” said Keeley Stingel, vice president of talent attraction and retention for Radius Indiana.

The Recast City effort in Indiana is being funded through cost sharing between Radius and Indiana SBDC. Federal dollars that are supporting the project came from the U.S. SBA via the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.


From Shuttered to Renewed

Small-scale manufacturing is definitely on the minds of a lot of community development leaders these days. It could be great for a lot of different downtown areas that were hit hard by the recession and then the pandemic. Now that other cities and town have recent models to follow, we could be seeing lots of unexpected businesses begin to occupy and revitalize spaces that have been empty for some time now. This could be a whole new, smaller, chapter in Indiana’s great history of making things.