Columbia is a creative city. People brew beer in their basements, roast coffee in their kitchens, or build furniture in their garages. Others sew quilts, make leather handbags, or create clothing with wearable electronics. School kids board the STEAM Bus to learn coding and engineering skills with a Raspberry Pi.
Small-scale manufacturing and small-batch production can bring innovation, creativity, and economic vitality to a long-neglected area like the Business Loop. We're expanding our view of what "retail" means and finding the hidden economy of diverse creators who may not have a place elsewhere. We're working to identify and support these up-and-coming makers with expert mentoring, funding, and marketing assistance--and are creating the space to help them grow into small manufacturers.
The Loop has always been a DIY type of street. Now we're taking this same approach to the maker community here in Columbia to see if we can build something together.
In 2019 The Loop Community Improvement District was one of six organizations in the nation to receive a federal grant designed to encourage local, small-scale manufacturing as a way to revitalize an underperforming area of the city and create new economic opportunities. Our goal was to identify local small-scale manufacturers and help them overcome obstacles to growing their business with shared spaces, pop-up markets, and promotional assistance. We also focused on inclusivity by creating pathways to include those left out of traditional funding processes, often women and minorities.
The following year we were named one of five Etsy Maker Cities and received a grant from Etsy and the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth. We teamed up with Jabberwocky Studios to create a one-stop shop of resources for makers including a shared branding program, a community-wide awareness campaign, a Maker Market, and assistance locating manufacturing space along The Loop corridor.
Since then, we worked to identify and support up-and-coming makers with expert mentoring, educational workshops, and marketing assistance. We also spoke with fantastic local makers, small-batch producers, and artisans who couldn't expand their businesses because space and equipment were outside their budget. Shared spaces are a proven solution which increases inclusion by creating pathways for those without a lot of capital. A shared space reduces the obstacles to starting or expanding a business by charging reasonable membership fees for shared equipment and joint spaces.
We now have three shared spaces on the street to help these local makers grow into small manufacturers--the MACCLab Makerspace, Vidwest Studios, and the CoMo Cooks Shared Kitchen. The Loop has become the undisputed Makers Row of Columbia.