Case Study

What Works for Cities: Urban Manufacturing Alliance

Objective: This What Works for Cities case study examines the formation and recent efforts of the Urban Manufacturing Alliance (UMA), a network of economic and workforce development agencies, nonprofit organizations, government and elected officials, policymakers, educators, students, makers and established manufacturers. The UMA is committed to the shared goal of growing the manufacturing industry in our cities and creating pathways for all residents to benefit from the industry’s growth.

Main Topic: Urban manufacturing

Geography: Nationwide

Major Participants: The Urban Manufacturing Alliance, the Pratt Center for Community Development, SFMade, PolicyLink, the Clinton Global Initiative, the Surdna Foundation, Citi Community Development. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation; 500+ stakeholders from 150+ U.S. cities and towns

Background: Traditional manufacturing was critical to the growth of American cities. These jobs did not require expensive education and training and paid higher than average wages. When traditional manufacturing began to move farther from the urban core (and eventually overseas), cities with economies based on manufacturing began to decline.

While manufacturing in the U.S. has started to regain momentum, the industry has changed dramatically. Companies are smaller, more entrepreneurial and better networked. Factories now require new, more technical skills than their counterparts of the 20th century. The industry is being constrained by a lack of qualified workers, while inner city residents – who could benefit from the return of American manufacturing – are being shut out of its opportunities.

There are numerous organizations working regionally to ensure the success and sustainability of manufacturing as the industry searches for solid footing. Two of them, the Pratt Center for Community Development, home to the Made in NYC brand, and SFMade are involved in initiatives like advocating for thoughtful land use policy, providing a forum for local “makers” to gather, supporting local supply chain management, and connecting local manufacturers to workforce programming. When Pratt and SFMade began sharing information about their efforts, new and broader insights about the state of the industry were discovered, which ultimately led to the formation of the Urban Manufacturing Alliance.

“These discussions led to an important realization: the place-based strategies they were employing weren’t really at the forefront of economic development conversations,” said Lee Wellington, UMA’s Executive Director. “Instead, two distinct conversations were being held in parallel: the first was around the need to bring manufacturing jobs back to the urban core; the second was around lifting up inner city residents and promoting inclusive job growth,” he said.

In 2011 the Urban Manufacturing Alliance was launched as a program of the Pratt Center and SFMade. Today, UMA is a national collaborative of non-profit, for-profit and governmental stakeholders that work together to grow urban manufacturing, create living wage jobs and catalyze sustainable local economies. Its goal is to, “create a community of practice between all of the people engaged every day in trying to strengthen the manufacturing sector and create jobs in cities,” said Adam Friedman, Board Chair and Co-Founder of the Urban Manufacturing Alliance and Executive Director of the Pratt Center.

How it Works: From its onset, UMA knew that the collaboration amongst its members had to go beyond events. UMA wanted to dig deeper, allowing its members to share and cultivate expertise form the bottom-up. In order to facilitate targeted conversations among members, UMA created four “Communities of Practice” (COPs). Each COP serves as a clearinghouse for tools, best practices, and knowledge, as well as member-only forums for sharing ideas and working through some of the industry’s most pressing challenges.

  • The Workforce Development COP is currently focused on programs that support the integration of youth into the industrial economy. This includes building partnerships with technical high schools, community colleges, and investigating the ways in which maker spaces integrate youth into their programs.
  • The Land Use Policy and Real Estate Development COP is focused on how to support small batch production in cities (e.g., artisan manufacturing). Strategies from building markets that support small batch production, to encouraging real estate developers to modify buildings for smaller industrial companies are being explored.
  • The Local and Regional Branding COP is helping members develop local and regional brand platforms. For example, some manufacturing companies don’t consider themselves to be manufacturers. Creating a local brand platform can help them understand their role in the industry, and open doors to the many resources that are available to them as a result. The end goal is to create more connectedness across stakeholders within the manufacturing sector.
  • The Equity COP works in conjunction with the other COPs to ensure that each of the other groups is integrating an equity focus throughout their work. The Equity COP is also heavily engaged in UMA’s foundational work; for instance, it will look at the demographic shifts happening across cities or how the nature of work is changing – and the impacts this will have on the industry if the talent base doesn’t diversify. The Equity COP has helped to identify stakeholders to be engaged in all of UMA’s work, and has developed a number of equity indicators to help cities understand and evaluate the inclusiveness of their economic development strategies.

Each COP has its own co-chairs and board to help identify the COP’s priorities and area of focus each year. The board also serves as an internal resource bench to support connections and help communities work through specific challenges as they arise.

Results to Date: At its inception in 2011, UMA hoped to collaborate with 10 cities across the U.S. within its first year. UMA shattered this goal early on. Hundreds of members joined the coalition, and in 2015 UMA became a stand-alone 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization. In the past year alone, UMA has grown from around 300 members to more than 500 members, representing more than 150 cities and towns across the country. What’s more, UMA has grown organically through word of mouth and events – a sentiment to those interested in place-based economic development efforts geared toward growing local and urban manufacturing.

UMA, through the work of the Equity COP, has also developed a set of equity indicators that is being shared with cities across the country. This helps communities evaluate the extent to which their economic development initiatives are supportive of inclusive job and industry growth. The equity indicators were used as a benchmark in a recent study, “Prototyping Equity,” produced in partnership with Pratt Center for Community Development and PolicyLink, which evaluated local strategies for building a more inclusive innovation economy in four cities: New York City, San Jose, Indianapolis and Portland, OR.

UMA has also hosted a number of workshops, webinars and other events for its members. Last fall, for instance, UMA hosted a convening in Indianapolis with the Riley Area Development Corporation, which used the Prototyping Equity report as its base theme. An estimated 150 people from around the country attended the convening. Attendees went for a walking tour of the Indy Cultural Trail, listened to member-practitioners give presentations and explored the East Side Promise Zone, where they stopped at an urban farm and toured a motor repair company – two local businesses that rely on a strong manufacturing ecosystem.

Finally, the formation of UMA has led to the creation of a “State of Urban Manufacturing Report” which helps fill data gaps related to small- and mid-sized manufacturing. This has proven particularly beneficial for engaging small makers and advanced manufacturers that don’t fit neatly into the traditional industry classification system. This coming year, UMA will be working in five cities to try to better understand how to connect these small- and mid-sized companies with government and nonprofit support services in order to help these firms scale and grow.

Remaining Challenges: The work of UMA over the past five years has revealed a number of challenges related to the growth of urban manufacturing. “First and foremost is the broad challenge of helping people understand that manufacturing is still happening in cities. It might not look like it used to, but if you walk through inner city neighborhoods you’ll find small batch (even large batch) manufacturing happening – people just don’t know it’s there,” says Katy Stanton, UMA’s Program Director.

Equally important is addressing the “values gap” that exists. In other words, most people don’t see the value in urban manufacturing. This is particularly evident in thriving, land-constrained cities like New York and San Francisco, where industrial land is being gobbled up by developers for residential and/or office development.

There are also a few challenges as it pertains to integrating an equity focus in these place-based economic development strategies. A poll of the Equity COP revealed that members feel like there is little interest from upper-level policymakers, limited funding for programs that would promote inclusivity, and outreach to new or diverse communities remains difficult.

Lessons Learned: UMA Executive Director, Lee Wellington, and Katy Stanton, UMA’s Program Director, say the organization has gained many powerful insights and lessons over the last few years. For example, building a successful coalition requires a broad network of community organizations, policymakers, academic institutions, practitioners and other stakeholders who share a collective belief that industrial activity is inherently valuable to community development.

Second, the success of UMA depends on members’ ability and willingness to connect with one another. UMA suggests looking for connections that might otherwise be unexpected – for instance, makers don’t typically interact with traditional manufacturers. Facilitating these interactions takes time, and time is a precious resource; but cross-industry collaboration is critical to the UMA’s objectives.

Lastly, on the subject of equity: even stakeholders with the best intentions struggle to create equitable programs. It takes an enormous amount of time and intentionality to move equity initiatives forward; this is often perceived as a roadblock that prevents many efforts from getting off the ground. Instead, UMA suggests stakeholders become familiar with new ways to approach diverse groups to engage them in economic development efforts moving forward.


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