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Baltimore to become case study in ‘urban manufacturing’

Under Armour's UA Lighthouse manufacturing and design center at Sagamore Development's City Garage facility in Port Covington is one of several hubs for light manufacturing in the city. (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

Under Armour’s UA Lighthouse manufacturing and design center at Sagamore Development’s City Garage facility in Port Covington is one of several hubs for light manufacturing in Baltimore. (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

Conventional wisdom is that manufacturing vanished from Baltimore years ago, leaving a hole in the city’s economy that lingers to this day.

But the growing number of makerspaces — many of which allow businesses and community members to use fabrication tools such as 3-D printers, cutters and other equipment — in the Baltimore area may be flipping the script on the industry.

Now, Baltimore will be examined closely in a new study of this kind of “urban manufacturing” and its economic impact across the country, a project local officials hope will yield valuable intelligence on how to encourage growth in the field.

“We believe that light manufacturing is experiencing a renaissance in Baltimore, and we look forward to learning through this study what kind of economic impact this sector is having on our city,” Andy Cook, founder of the Made in Baltimore campaign, said in a news release.

Made in Baltimore, an initiative of the city’s planning department, is partnering with the Urban Manufacturing Alliance to collect data for the alliance’s first State of Urban Manufacturing report, which will look at 13 cities but put a special focus on manufacturing activity in five cities, including Baltimore.

“There’s a lot of people who don’t see the vitality of manufacturing,” Lee Wellington, executive director of the alliance, told The Daily Record. “Our goal is to tell that story.”

The alliance suspects the growth of the maker movement is fueling manufacturing growth, and one goal of the report is to test that hypothesis, Wellington said.

Researchers also want to look at how manufacturers are connecting with communities, such as local brand platforms — that is, campaigns that promote locally-made products such as “Made in Baltimore,” she said.

The alliance also wants to look at how easily makers can access venture capital and believes the report will enhance the organization’s efforts to build coalitions of manufacturers across the country, Wellington said.

Growth in urban manufacturing should benefits communities across racial, gender and economic divides, and more data and research will support that goal, she added.

Wellington expects the report will be finalized by the end of 2017.

Researchers from the University of Baltimore’s Jacob France Institute will also work with the alliance and Made in Baltimore to collect data for the project.

Cook said the report can provide a baseline from which the city can judge its future progress helping companies grow and create jobs.

The research effort is slated to kick off Friday afternoon at Open Works, the recently-opened makerspace on Greenmount Avenue.

“Our mission is to help support local talent, develop traditional and advanced fabrication skills, and incubate small manufacturing businesses to help grow our economy,” said Open Works’s General Manager Will Holman. “By studying the existing conditions and activities, we can have a better understanding of what local manufacturing policies and systems need to be in place to support makers and manufacturers.”

Over the past year, Sagamore Development’s City Garage facility in Port Covington has become another hub for light manufacturing in the city and now houses several growing companies, another community makerspace known as The Foundry, and Under Armour’s UA Lighthouse manufacturing and design center.

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