The Talent Maker City Story

In May of 2016, against long odds, Etsy.com (the global online retailer of handcrafted goods) selected a group from Talent, Oregon along with 12 other American and Canadian cities from among 126 applicant cities to participate in its inaugural MakerCities Summit. During an intensive two-day workshop in Brooklyn, New York, Etsy guided workshops and brought in a diverse lineup of speakers to espouse the idea that there’s untapped opportunity for local municipalities to engage and support their local makers to ultimately change the way we all create, buy, and sell goods.

By far the smallest city selected to participate in the MakerCities Summit, the group from Talent returned home on a mission to adapt what we learned in Brooklyn to fit the needs of own community and rebrand Talent as a regional hub for creative, technical, and cultural innovation. In December 2016, the original group formally installed its Board of Directors and became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Talent Maker City, (“TMC”). Our goal is to build a well-equipped makerspace facility in the heart of Talent’s downtown district.

Already popular in many larger cities throughout the country, makerspaces are do-it-yourself places where people with shared interests can gather to create, learn, and share ideas. Community access to the makerspace facility is similar to that of a fitness gym. Instead of treadmills and yoga classes, however, a makerspace offers access to a wide array of tools, technology, and space to create. Further, in lieu of personal trainers, makerspaces offer classes, training, and support for any number of creative endeavors, from throwing a clay pot, to experienced guidance in prototyping an invention, to developing a sound business plan to market and sell that invention.

TMC has been working closely with our forward-thinking city government that is actively working to revitalize our downtown district and support a sustainable, robust local economy. A bustling downtown makerspace is poised to be the keystone feature that anchors the social and economic development that connects, grows, and sustains our community.

In working to shape policy and bringing a makerspace to our hometown, we also have the unique opportunity to rebrand Talent as a thriving hub of innovation in the Rogue Valley. The Maker City model creates and sustains a uniquely skilled population – not just in Talent, but throughout Southern Oregon as well. Our work to educate the community about the maker movement, the emerging maker economy, and the Maker City model has been met with abundant enthusiasm across the board, from creative locals willing to pitch in where they can, to civic, education, and business leaders who see the very real potential to do something positive and lasting for the region, both socially and economically.

Indeed, both Talent and Southern Oregon are primed for an infusion of creative and economic opportunity to ensure our place at the table in the constantly evolving global economy. We believe that cultivating and supporting a local maker ecosystem, one built on community access to tools, technology, and open-sourced learning holds the key for sustained prosperity throughout the region. That prosperity comes when our culture is healthy, commerce is robust, and education is accessible.

Around the county, the maker movement has been shown to catalyze a stronger sense of community by joining together in the creative endeavors. Involving edge communities like disadvantaged youth and traditionally underserved groups works to mitigate social fragmentation and builds social capital through creative collaboration and an open exchange of culture and ideas.

When we work together, a stronger local economy follows. By offering the space and resources to produce goods, TMC will open the door for small businesses to serve niche customer service needs and provide opportunity for aspiring creative entrepreneurs to make the leap from hobby to business. Further, non-maker retail businesses also stand to benefit from increased visibility afforded by proximity to a bustling makerspace in Talent’s downtown district.

Finally, while culture and commerce are core components in the Maker City concept, the bedrock foundation is education. Recent focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM)-based learning in schools, is, in part, a response to the urgent need to better equip students of today to find their place in tomorrow’s economy. Unfortunately, STEM-proficiency mandates set by state and federal governments are often going unmet due to underfunding and lack of qualified teachers. As an independent organization, TMC is positioned to fill those gaps by offering parallel programs in a less regimented learning environment. We are currently partnering with Rogue Community College, Southern Oregon STEM Hub, and local school districts to develop hands-on workshops to supplement their STEM offerings and empower the next generation of makers by modeling independent thinking, self-reliance, and working with one’s hands.

This opportunity, of course, extends beyond students. Displaced workers needing to upgrade their skill sets, those looking to change careers, and hobbyists ready to take their making to the next level will all have access to the tools and resources to make that happen.

The future belongs to those who can imagine it. Talented, creative, and motivated makers are already here in the Rogue Valley. Talent Maker City is the ecosystem that supports those curious and creative minds of all ages by celebrating and facilitating their pursuits of artistic expression, self-reliance, and skilled resilience that will serve individuals and the greater community for decades to come.