The Port City and “The Maker Movement”

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The Port City and “The Maker Movement”

The Port City and “The Maker Movement”

by Jennifer Warren on December 5, 2012, Cape Fear Economic Development Council

During the deluge of presidential banter, a topic that is pivotal to the election and as such to our country is how to get people back to work. Manufacturing has been a huge component of our economy, but it is clear that old-world manufacturing will not be able to be sustained. Both presidential candidates recognize the importance of manufacturing in our country’s history but neither has clearly identified how manufacturing will remain a source of American wealth and prosperity in the future.

Enter The ‘Maker’ Revolution.

The Maker Movement as named in 2006 by Dale Dougherty began when individuals realized the power of the technology that is now accessible to them. Beginning with personal computers, then the addition of the Internet and most recently devices like the iPhone that possess more processing capabilities than the computers used to launch Apollo 11, individuals are exploring their own imaginations and capabilities. Now with the advent of 3D printers and other digital production machines we are empowering the common person to produce goods. I spoke with a local Maker, Loren Gulak, of Groundswell Design Works about the emergence of a new kind of manufacturing.

”One of the main concepts that has emerged with the internet age is the value of the “long tail” where niche industries have access to a larger audience and it is easier to find solutions to a specific problem you might have, or a specific interest or hobby. This originally started with information products, software and services since the “production” of these offerings did not involve huge expensive pieces of machinery. Now, there is a new wave of activity with the Maker Movement where more people have access to the making of physical products that are closer to a mass produced quality. The products currently emerging from this movement are focused on hyper-personalized products as a form of expression or for specific problem solving.

IMG_8822For example, I have a set of Bose headphones that I wanted to be able to neatly hang on the side of my iMac computer. I created a design using CAD software on my computer, sent it to my 3D printer and “printed” out the design as a plastic part. I went from a very specific problem to having a functioning product that solved that problem in my hands within 3hrs. So the next question to ask is “who else out there has this specific problem and needs this solution?”

So, how does our Port City seize upon this new frontier and all of the potential it holds? The topic of the development of a Business Incubator; how to start it, what it looks like, key partners for it, has been on the lips of many entrepreneurs, students, nonprofits, business leaders, collegiate personnel, and government officials for years. Yet, we still do not have a successful Incubator to birth and nurture the next businesses that will employ our residents and provide a bright future for Wilmington. I would suggest that The Maker Movement provides the perfect spark needed for the development of an Incubator. Within the Movement there are new environments popping up known as communal workshops and collaborative micro-manufacturing facilities. Within their walls are the resources that enable anyone to dream and create. Places like the Tech Shop and Maker Works provide the space, machinery; such as 3D printers, lathes, laser cutters, drill presses, industrial sewing machines, and educational assets to it’s members that allow them to make almost anything. Think of it as a local community college’s shop classes or our local ‘Kids Makin It’ on tech steroids. This is where businesses are born.

A place like this could become the common focal point for all of the disparate groups among town trying to foster entrepreneurs and new businesses to rally behind and create the momentum needed to make Wilmington a true leader in innovation. It brings together the best of both worlds of a trade school and intellectual academia. It allows the sharing of ideas, the building upon of each other’s work and opens up the means of production to everyone. And as Loren Gulak emphatically believes, the increase in the creative & technical capabilities of the community will provide a strong framework for the next foundation of economic growth.

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