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Bill aims to open a network of makerspaces across the state

The bottom floor of the Open Works space in Baltimore is home to the makerspace’s metal, wood and digital fabrication shops. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

A bill that aims to support the development of new makerspaces across the state is back in Annapolis for the third time in three years, this time with a higher price tag attached. 

SB435, also known as the Maryland Makerspace Initiative Program, aims to distribute money to organizations and local governments that want to open and operate makerspaces — spaces in which community members can use a variety of crafting and manufacturing tools, as well as take classes on how to use those tools. Some makerspaces, like Open Works in Baltimore, also offer workspaces for small business owners and entrepreneurs who cannot afford a traditional office. 

Advocates for the bill say that makerspaces are both important economic development drivers, teaching new trades to job seekers and helping individuals launch their businesses, as well as founts of creativity where children and adults alike can develop new hobbies and skills. 

According to Sen. Cory McCray, D-Baltimore, who has sponsored the bill in the Senate for the past three years and whose district contains Open Works, the makerspace’s presence has helped revitalize the Johnston Square neighborhood of Baltimore since its opening on Greenmount Avenue in 2016. 

“We know that we have to get creative with revitalizing our neighborhoods,” he said. “We really revitalized the Johnston Square neighborhood because we put something different (there) that wasn’t a liquor store or a barbershop.” 

A 2019 study, completed by Coppin State University’s business school, outlined the impact of the makerspace on the local community. According to the report, Open Works had a $5.5 million economic impact on the city of Baltimore and a $9.5 million impact on Maryland, and supported 118 jobs and 55 small businesses.

Last year’s iteration of the bill was widely supported, unanimously passing through the Senate before dying in the House of Delegates. This year, Sen. Cory McCray, D-Baltimore, who has sponsored the bill in the Senate for the past three years, said he has worked with House Majority Leader Eric Luedtke, D-Montgomery, to try to give the bill a better shot in the House. 

This version of the bill is not identical to the one presented last year, however. This year’s bill would allocate a minimum of $1,000,000 to a fund for the program, called the Maryland Makerspace Initiative Fund, each fiscal year from 2024 to 2028; 2021’s bill would have allocated only $450,000 per year for three years. 

Those funds would go towards local governments or nonprofits, who would use them to establish, expand or operate local makerspaces. To encourage geographic diversity in the distribution of the funds, no more than $250,000 could be awarded to a single jurisdiction annually without special approval.

Like previous years, the Maryland Technology Development Corporation, better known as TEDCO, would run the program and dole out the funds. TEDCO is supportive of the initiative, with Stephen Auvil, TEDCO’s chief program operations officer, speaking in favor of the bill at a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Tuesday. 

“This bill fits with a larger vision that TEDCO has of a more coordinated innovation infrastructure in Maryland. Makerspaces are one component of that infrastructure, along with incubators and other resources,” Auvil told the committee. “The stitching together of these components will strengthen our region’s ability to support entrepreneurs and compete nationally.”

Several other people also spoke in favor of the bill, including a woman who built her small crafts business using Open Works’ tools and skills she had gained through its classes; the executive director of Nation of Makers, an organization that supports makerspaces; and Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich.