Talent Maker City

Talent News & Review - August, 2016
Story by Ryan Wilcoxson

Two ladies walk into a guy’s garage… It’s an odd start, but it’s the true story of how a small group from little Talent ended up in Brooklyn, New York working with an online retail giant and a dozen other major metropolitan cities scattered about North America on what it means to be a MakerCity.

I’m the guy in the garage and the two ladies are Talent Planning Commissioner Allison French and local artist Karen Rycheck. Earlier this year, Karen discovered an online application to attend a workshop in Brooklyn focused on the idea that local government and creative communities can work together to change the way we buy, sell, and create goods. She recruited Allison, also a maker, and the two of them set out on a stroll to share ideas and, likely, to purge some of the frenetic energy that often follows big news and bigger possibilities. On that stroll, they ran into Mayor Darby Stricker, out on a bike ride, pitched the opportunity and instantly received her honorable endorsement. A short block later, Karen and Alli, no doubt attracted to the sweet tunes and sawdust billowing from my garage workshop, like moths to a streetlight, stopped in with a vague but agreeable proposition: “Want to go to New York?” If I recall, my reply was a tacit, “Yes?”

Against long odds, our group from Talent was selected from amongst 126 other American and Canadian applicant cities to participate in the inaugural Etsy MakerCities Summit (etsy.com). In May, with generous support from the City of Talent, The Talent Chamber of Commerce, The Talent Arts and Cultural Foundation, and local business leader, Joe Wissman, we packed our bags and made our pilgrimage to Brooklyn. We didn’t quite know what to expect from the two-day summit, but we were certainly intent on taking full advantage of the resources and support offered by Etsy and making the most of what we knew would be an incredible opportunity to do something good for our hometown.

To offer some background, Etsy is a global online retailer of all things artisan. Vested in creative communities producing and selling handcrafted goods around the world, they conceived the Etsy MakerCities Summit based on the belief that there are largely untapped opportunities for local governments to enable members of the maker community start and grow their creative businesses. Building on that premise, Etsy assembled a group of experts to guide a lively discussion and exploration of new ideas in support of each of the 13 participating cities tailoring the MakerCity concept to best serve our unique communities.

Going into the summit, each of us had our own hatchling ideas of somehow, some way, someday bringing a makerspace to Talent. Already popular in many big cities, a makerspace is structured much like a fitness gym. Instead of treadmills, weights, and Jazzercise (is that still a thing?), a makerspace offers access to a tantalizing array of tools, technology, a space to create. Further, instead of personal trainers to help tone your abs for summer, a makerspace offers classes, training, and support for any number of creative endeavors, from throwing your first clay pot, to experienced guidance in prototyping an invention, to developing a sound business plan to market and sell that invention.

In Talent’s case, a makerspace is the foundation on top of which a MakerCity is built. If a makerspace is the physical location at which creativity rules, ideas are made realities, and disappearing handmade skills are shared and passed on to younger generations, then a MakerCity is the governing philosophy that supports and sustains our local maker economy and encourages creative entrepreneurship to build a more connected, more successful, thriving Talent.

We’re incredibly fortunate to have a forward-thinking city government that recognizes both the need to revitalize our downtown district and the blunt reality that a healthy downtown only happens when a proper foundation is laid to support a sustainable local economy. On the government side of this equation, that means shaping policy to be more welcoming of new business which, in turn, will attract more local commerce. A more robust local economy, thriving in a revitalized city center, will motivate residents to spend more time in their downtown, rather than heading off to neighboring cities by default. We, along with the City, expect a bustling downtown makerspace 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 hub of innovation in the Rogue Valley. The MakerCity model creates and sustains a uniquely skilled population – not just in Talent, but also throughout Southern Oregon. Our work to educate the community about the maker movement, the emerging maker economy, and the MakerCity 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.

Our intention is to do good for Talent by doing good for the region. We started small, but the idea is snowballing as word spreads and outreach efforts continue. Bringing a makerspace to Talent and embracing the MakerCity movement will go a long way in creating a thriving downtown and a sustainable local economy. There’s much work to be done, but the potential is immense. If you’d like to be part of the Talent MakerCity movement, please send us and email or find us on Facebook.