A local business leader recently pitched to me the idea that Lancaster County should grab the mantra of being the “makers” capital, a rallying cry that is built on a solid foundation today and could be used to drive broad and inclusive economic development strategies.
This concept has some real merit to it.
First, it capitalizes on a current wave of entrepreneurship that is advancing in communities across the country and certainly here in Lancaster.
Just last year, the National League of Cities offered research to help guide communities’ efforts to grow makers businesses. Locally, the list of nimble, young companies that are popping up that either make — or celebrate making — is growing.
Consider, too, Make717 at Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology or the Pennsylvania College of Art & Design’s mantra of “strong thinkers, strong makers and strong communicators.”
From furniture makers to metal fabricators, tinkerers to highly sought-after sculptors, Lancaster County has the three ingredients needed to be successful: hard-working people, flexible places and locally made products.
Second, it is authentically Lancaster County. We’ve been a community of makers for a long time, given the strong manufacturing and agricultural bases that are the hallmark of our local economy.
While makers come in all shapes and sizes, there is something particularly distinctive about smaller, boutique efforts that focus on quality, not just quantity.
This orientation toward craftsmanship and value is Lancaster County’s DNA. Lancaster County’s history of making also has resulted in the potentially unmatchable supply chain of goods and services that exists locally.
Businesses large and small marvel at the depth of local craftsmen, fabricators and suppliers that exist here, as well as the availability of various materials and inputs.
Relative to other communities that might try to claim the title of makers capital, arguably Lancaster County is already well ahead of the pack.
Third, aspiring to be the nation’s makers capital crosses industry, demographics, geography and skill levels, making it particularly appealing as an economic development equalizer.
At their core, makers are entrepreneurial, innovative and product-driven, regardless of income, background or age. The physical spaces that can function as maker spaces range widely, from libraries and schools to underutilized and light industrial buildings.
Already in Lancaster County today, a variety of spaces exist that are supporting and growing our makers movement.
A focused strategy to grow more makers could help underpin the much sought-after endgame of further revitalizing Lancaster County’s boroughs, particularly for organic ‘makers’ activity in our smaller communities.
From a perspective of workforce development, which is the lead issue in economic development today, there is increasing evidence linking the growing importance of STEM knowledge (science, technology, engineering and math), the drive to make manufacturing careers more appealing and accessible to millennials and the makers movement.
Again, these elements — a STEM focus, a manufacturing need and makers — already exist in Lancaster. There is no shortage of “traditional” economic and community development priorities in Lancaster County.
Land use, workforce development, infrastructure and education are just a few of the major buckets that drive daily discussion and efforts among government, businesses and residents.
What is intriguing about the concept of staking the claim of being the country’s makers capital is that it is boldly aspirational, unifying and authentically Lancaster County.
Something worth considering.
• Lisa Riggs is president of the Economic Development Co. of Lancaster County.