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The Democratization of Innovation: Makers Build Shared Prosperity

February 27, 2013

As the additive manufacturing (3D printing) industry rapidly matures across the country, city governments and civil society leaders are advocating for the creation of makers spaces in their communities that offer open access to 3D printing technologies. This minimal investment in community infrastructure has the potential to generate diversified sources of locally-based economic growth.

In his recent State of the City address, Mayor Michael Coleman of Columbus, Ohio, announced that the city would be sponsoring the re-location of the Idea Foundry, a local makers organization, to a newly revitalized neighborhood in an attempt to promote economic development. Makers Spaces are shared work areas where people build things collaboratively. These spaces are open to public use and support themselves by charging membership and instruction fees. They operate as open classrooms where community members who are interested in developing products or testing out industrial processes can do so at nominal cost.

There are currently over a thousand makers spaces in cities around the world, and civic leaders in Columbus have recognized the value of using these spaces to offer community access to additive manufacturing technology. Think tanks, policymakers, and major media outlets have all recently touted the proliferation of 3D printing as a key weapon for advancing U.S. global competitiveness. 3D printing provides a cheap and effective method for individuals to prototype and manufacture a wide range of industrial products while sharing the use of relatively inexpensive equipment. Makers Spaces act as public libraries for the use of 3D printers and other shared-use manufacturing equipment, providing cities with open-access spaces for community members to engage in entrepreneurship.

Phillip Longman, a senior fellow at the New American Foundation, highlighted the potential of 3D printing to revolutionize American economic opportunity in his 2009 Foreign Policy magazine article A Return to Yoemanry. Makers Spaces now can be found across the countryand forward-thinking cities like Columbus and Santa Cruz, CA, now are working to incorporate makers spaces into their broader plans for economic development. And with broader acceptance among policymakers of the potential for 3D printing to provide economic opportunity, community leaders in cities across the country are now also speculating on the potential of makers spaces to be used as an educational tool for students that provides vocational training and teaches hands-on, skill-based entrepreneurship.

In his most recent State of the Union address, President Obama pointed to the launch of the National Additive Manufacturing Institute in Youngstown, Ohio, as a key example of his administration's innovation policy. The institute serves as a center for forging regional partnerships in 3D manufacturing between corporations, universities, and government. The Obama administration's support of public-private partnerships to advance additive manufacturing, along with the actions of cities like Columbus, illustrates the potential for regions and cities to use makers spaces as centers for 3D printing that can generate diversified sources of locally-based economic growth.

additive mfg, manufacturing