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City Hosts Consultants to Advise on Small-Scale Manufacturing 
The Magnolia Avenue Warehouse District was the site of many big ideas recently. 

Knoxville—one of only four U.S. cities granted a technical assistance workshop on small-scale manufacturing—hosted consultants from Smart Growth America (SGA) and Recast City to meet with City officials, entrepreneurs, property owners and residents as well as tour the Magnolia Avenue Warehouse District (MAWD), where many large industries once housing factories that are now vacant. 

Knox Makers HQ

“Historically, factories have been viewed as large, polluting, and isolated structures,” said Office of Redevelopment Project Manager Bryan Berry, who helped apply for the grant. “But many cities are looking at ways to repurpose their factory buildings for small-scale manufacturing that can be readily integrated with other land uses.”

Sign at the Knox Makers workshop

The seeds of SGA’s visit were first planted in May 2016, when a small team representing Knoxville’s makers attended the first Etsy Maker Cities Summit in Brooklyn. What followed was the creation of MakeKnox (a KEC initiative) and a local makers’ summit where Knoxville was named the first Etsy Maker City and the Mayor's Maker Council was established. 

The SGA team met with a variety of small-scale manufacturing stakeholders, including members of Knoxville’s maker community, property developers and owners, Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, Knoxville Chamber, Knoxville Area Urban League and Pellissippi State Community College’s Magnolia Avenue Campus. 

Based on their three days of observations and conversations, the SGA team will recommend new policies and strategies to encourage small-scale manufacturing and place-based economic development in the MAWD. For instance, zoning code changes (per the Recode Knoxville project) could offer new mixed use opportunities for buildings with industrial uses to incorporate retail storefronts and/or residential spaces on the upper floors. 

“As tenants, makers are great neighbors,” Ilana Preuss, founder and CEO of Recast City said during a meeting with Mayor Madeline Rogero. “Makers want to open their doors to the public and have the community come together around them.” 

Black Sheep Printing HQ

Makers doing business in and near the MAWD reflect a diverse group of Knoxville’s maker community: Last Days of Autumn Brewing, Black Sheep Printing (above), Bird on the Wire Studios, Huckleberry Ironworks, Petty Welding, Silver Dollar Candle Company, and Mighty Mud, which recently moved into the Downtown North area.

Preuss calls breweries the new neighborhood “anchors”, a role that department stores played in past decades. This has proven true locally with Alliance Brewing on Sevier Avenue and Schulz Brau off Central Avenue, among others. In some cities, she says, mixed-use neighborhoods have developed as a result of breweries and other makers hosting festivals, followed by retail, restaurants and residential. 

Terrence Carter, Director of Economic & Business Development of Knoxville Area Urban League (KAUL), works with a majority of African-American entrepreneurs who want to start their own businesses. The agency’s services include workforce development and employment assistance, computer classes in Microsoft Word, Excel, personal finance and budgeting; a homebuyers workshop; and the 10-week CO.STARTERS Entrepreneurship Training Program. Their next class starts September 9, 2017. Additionally, the Urban League is a federally certified Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI); they make loans to new and existing businesses in Knox, Anderson, and Blount Counties. 

Makers meeting at Knox Area Urban League

Prior entrepreneurs in Carter’s classes include an event promoter, drum maker, videographer, food truck vendor, a home healthcare business owner, makers of both custom body oils and purses, day care operator, beauty and barber shop owners.

Regardless of the business idea, “the principles of starting a business don’t change,” Carter says. “Entrepreneurs need to know about marketing, messaging, start-up costs and ongoing operating costs. We spend a lot of time teaching about the financing of a business. Learning how to prepare financial spreadsheets such as income and expense statements, cash flow statements, profit and loss statements and having accounting systems are vital to operating a successful business.” 

He says it’s important to the future of our maker community that small-scale manufacturers and the developers involved should be afforded similar tax incentives that large developments sometimes receive from city governments. He sees that small-scale makers, with less easy access to capital, tend to think and stay local.  

“Makers are invested in what they make, the communities in which they make them, and the customers who buy them,” Carter said. Removing barriers to capital and affordable warehouse space is also key.  

Carter attended the first SGA workshop with Knox Makers at the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, and the next day hosted the SGA team at the Knoxville Area Urban League office, located just off Magnolia Avenue. He noted a major difference in the groups of entrepreneurs: the first group was all white; the second, all African American. His hope for the future of Knoxville as a maker city is that these two groups work together for maximum impact in the community. 
The Knoxville Area Urban League is a part of a planning team that will host Knoxville’s Minority Enterprise Development Week, October 9 -13, with October 11 focused on makers, creators, inventors, and small-scale manufacturers. Makers will set up and demonstrate their work at Knoxville Center Mall. 

What’s the future of the City’s myriad makers and empty factories? According to early feedback from SGA and small-scale manufacturing stakeholders, there are many possibilities. Encouraging entrepreneurs to locate in MAWD would provide jobs and amenities to the area’s residents as well as piggyback on the City’s public investment for an enhanced streetscape along the Magnolia Avenue. 

Berry anticipates receiving SGA’s customized action plan within the next month, at which point the City’s Office of Redevelopment, makers, stakeholders, the Mayor and other partners will peruse the results and make more plans to continue economic growth and reinvestment in our communities. 

Posted by ptravis On 24 July, 2017 at 4:06 PM