A team of experts from Smart Growth America, Recast City, and the Economic Development Administration just spent three days here in Columbia touring small manufacturing sites, holding roundtables with makers, and hosting a Makers Town Hall that had more than 150 Columbians in attendance. They loved our city and were amazed at the level of support for local manufacturing and for The Loop.
Armed with this information, they will create an action plan that will leverage our existing makers as a way to revitalize the Business Loop and provide more economic opportunity for future business owners and a skilled workforce.
In the meantime, we met some exciting local manufacturers, producers, and makers that we’d love to have on The Loop! As space on the Business Loop becomes available, we want to match the vacancy to the needs of small manufacturers as quickly as possible. That’s why we’re asking anyone interested in opening a small manufacturing business on The Loop–or moving or expanding a current business–to fill out our Space Needs survey.
All the information will remain confidential and it’s the best way to get on our radar. So take a few minutes and let us know what your space needs are at: www.comomakes.com/space-needs.
You’re invited to participate in a special community town hall on the evening of March 12 at Parkade Plaza, 601 Business Loop 70 West, Rm. 241.
The Loop CID is partnering with REDI on a new initiative to strengthen the Business Loop, reinvest in our spaces, and support more small-scale manufacturing in Columbia. This project is funded by the Economic Development Administration (EDA), and will bring national NGO, Smart Growth America, and consultants from Recast City LLC to our community.
This team of experts is coming to town in March and will help us create a strategy to leverage our existing makers as a way to revitalize The Loop and provide more economic opportunity for future business owners.
This town hall will focus on meeting with business owners and other community leaders like you to make sure our team understands what we need to make this project a success.
The town hall has two components:
6:00 – 7:00 pm – Presentation to the general public (including property owners, funders, and developers).
7:00 – 8:00 pm – Breakout session with local makers, manufacturers, and producers.
We hope you will be available to attend and share your thoughts with our team.
While Columbia boasts a healthy startup economy for local coffee roasters, breweries, and the like, it lacks a concentrated sector devoted to the small-scale artisan manufacturing that generates middle-skills jobs — those that require training but not a college degree. Carrie Gartner, executive director of The Loop, says that’s a problem because, as with most college towns, there is a growing gap in the skilled labor force.
“Our city needs a refreshed perspective on what a typical artisan looks like, as well as programs designed to bring more entrepreneurs into the mix,” says Gartner.
Earlier this year, The Loop, more formally known as the Business Loop Community Improvement District, and REDI received a federal grant to assist in developing a bustling artisan “maker economy” on the Loop corridor.
The nine-month grant is set to be implemented in March 2019 and will provide consulting services provided by Smart Growth America, a national organization that works with communities to build healthy local economies and neighborhoods. The consulting services will be funded by the U.S. Economic Development Administration. With ambitious revitalization plans already in the works, The Loop and REDI will use the grant to devise a plan for pumping in new business, consumers, and living-wage jobs to a long-neglected corridor.
Revitalizing the Loop
Business Loop 70 runs nearly three miles, from Stadium Boulevard to the west to East Boulevard, just shy of where I-70 intersects U.S. 63. (The Loop’s CID spans the corridor from the West Boulevard interstate exit to College Avenue.) Restaurants, bars, fast-food joints, auto dealers, grocers, museums, college satellite campuses, home improvement stores, and a myriad of retailers are among the diverse mix of businesses that call The Loop home.
Despite the variety of businesses along this corridor, The Loop presents several challenges to shoppers, property owners, and business tenants. “Right now, we have successful businesses on The Loop, and our sales are higher than expected,” says Gartner. “However, we have a number of underperforming properties, including vacant lots or overly large parking lots.”
To combat these and other problems, the CID board approved a 10-year revitalization plan earlier this year. With an estimated cost of $15 million over the next decade, funded primarily by property, use, and sales taxes assessed in the district, the plan outlines capital improvements and beautification efforts. The Columbia City Council recently approved the revitalization plan, which calls for improving traffic flow, constructing sidewalks and bike paths, enhancing landscaping, and defining the street’s identity with signage and public art. Also on the to-do list are short-term projects, like creating a handful of pop-up spaces for festivals and community events. The envisioned outcome of these improvements is attracting greater investment in The Loop by artisan startups, and in turn, consumers.
“Our goal is to improve the street, but in a way that matches the current character of the area. We don’t want to be a street with high-end clothing stores and art galleries — we want to be distinct from other commercial areas of town,” Gartner explains. “The Loop is a place where people show up in gloves and work boots. It’s an area specializing in fixing, building, and learning. A local furniture maker, metal worker, or jewelry maker would feel right at home on the street.”
City council recently rezoned The Loop to allow for just such artisan industries, which has opened the door for The Loop and other partners to focus on creating a small-scale manufacturing corridor.
“This can include welding, sculpting, arts and crafts, pottery, and carpentry, as well as local, small-batch bakeries, candy shops, cheese shops, craft breweries, and micro-distilleries,” Gartner says.
It also provides an opportunity for developing a comprehensive, citywide policy dedicated to expanding this place-based economic sector, something Gartner says doesn’t currently exist.
“Support for this plan is strong, and a small-scale manufacturing strategy would integrate into the shared economic revitalization goal outlined within,” Gartner says. “The ultimate goal is to create a corridor that revives this historically working-class neighborhood with new, small scale industries owned and operated by local residents.”
Investing in Community
The revitalization plan is also about investing in the community adjacent to The Loop. The First Ward neighborhood that lies just south of The Loop is one of three identified by the city’s 2019 strategic plan as needing a boost in social equity, public safety, infrastructure, and economic development.
“This is a neighborhood with historically low household income, low employment, and high crime,” Gartner says.
The neighborhood is inhabited predominantly by minority residents whose unemployment rate of eight percent is nearly twice that of white residents, in part because of a growing gap between the skills that employers need and the skills that residents in this area possess.
The city’s strategic plan aims to combat these issues by increasing living-wage jobs in this neighborhood and by reducing the median wage gap between white and minority households by five percent and the skills gap by 10 percent over three years. One way to meet these goals is by creating middle-skills jobs that fuel a small-scale manufacturing sector on The Loop, which is within walking distance from the neighborhood.
The Loop’s partnership with REDI is a logical one. Stacey Button, president of REDI, administers the Innovation Hub, a startup incubator that provides collaborative co-working space, business counseling, and mentorship to assist budding entrepreneurs. She is also responsible for the economic development portion of the city’s strategic plan.
“Small-scale manufacturing helps grow local entrepreneurship, and small business and can be a catalyst in revitalizing specific areas such as the Business Loop,” Button says. “It allows people to produce and sell their own goods, and if strategically located in an area such as the Business Loop, their presence will enhance not only the business corridor, but also the surrounding neighborhoods and the residents who reside there.”
Just as The Loop’s revitalization plan will take several years to implement, so too will developing a burgeoning small-scale manufacturing corridor. The first step is to create a feasible working plan that can be completed in phases, which is where the grant-funded consulting services from Smart Growth America come in. Gartner and Button are busy preparing for the first site visit in March by gathering preliminary information about Columbia’s specific needs, strengths, and challenges.
“Part of our prep for the site visit it to get a lay of the land: What types of makers and producers do we have [in Columbia] right now? Are they home-based or located in commercial spaces? What types of resources are available?” Gartner says.
The Loop created COMO Makes, a website dedicated to the planning process. Interested artisans, as well as those with resources for helping artisans with training, assistance with business plans, and funding, can add their names to the COMO Makes registry.
“That information will help Smart Growth America and their team develop a plan tailored to us,” Gartner says. “We’ve got about 30 people who’ve signed up on the makers registry now, and we’ll keep collecting names. These folks will be helpful in providing an overview of what types of manufacturing are happening now, and they can help during the site visit interviews as well. It’ll also be a good way to keep them apprised of our planning and the outcomes.”
In addition to having a community that already supports an active startup culture, Gartner says one of Columbia’s strengths lies in its educational institutions. The MU School of Engineering, Stephens College School of Design, the Columbia Area Career Center, and Moberly Area Community College have programs focused on training workers for well-paying, middle-skills jobs.
Gartner suspects the challenges to a small-scale manufacturing sector will be identifying creative funding options, assistance programs, and working space for artisans.
“We need a compelling argument for traditionally conservative real estate developers, banks, and property owners to recognize the value of small-scale manufacturing and invest in developing these types of projects,” Gartner says, adding that some local banks already recognize the value of investing in this type of jobs-based program.
Gartner expects the plan to include efforts to help women and minority entrepreneurs who historically lack access to the funding needed to gain a foothold in the startup world.
“We don’t yet know what [Smart Growth America] will recommend, but past grant awardees have created makerspaces, commercial kitchens, or fabricating labs for garment construction and other textile work,” Gartner says. “Think of these as the manufacturing equivalent of [REDI’s] Innovation Hub. Having a physical incubator would allow us to create a pipeline of local manufacturers that would help convince property owners to develop needed space for them.”
As The Loop, REDI, and its many partners look to what the future could hold for the I-70 business corridor, Gartner is confident in the planning process that will start next spring.
“A smart plan that excites the community and helps us support local manufacturers on the Business Loop will pay dividends far into the future,” she says. “If done right, we’ll revitalize the street with new manufacturers, new jobs, and new retail spaces, all while remaining true to the character of the area.”
It was a foodie heaven. A large commercial kitchen full of chefs bottling sauces and packaging meals. Across the way was a row of small restaurant spaces with local offerings ranging from vegetarian to Asian fusion to Mexican. People were eating lunch at shared tables or grabbing a cup of coffee at the adjacent coffee roaster. Around the corner was a local food retailer and, best of all, a butcher shop.
It’s a for-profit space designed specifically as an incubator for food startups—restaurants, meal services, food trucks, popups, farmers market vendors, or food production. The shared commercial kitchen rents space to startups who can’t afford full scale kitchen equipment or who need a health department certified kitchen. The small, individual kitchens with counters serve as second-stage spaces for businesses who have outgrown the shared kitchen but still can’t afford the square footage of a sit-down restaurant.
Overall, the 4th Street Market is a space with a lot of things working together—they even have a room for cooking classes that’s camera ready for the chefs who produce demonstration videos for YouTube.
Even better, this space provides a needed gathering space for people who work or live in the area—and it’s not just for lunch. Live music plays on the weekends, an outdoor patio is strung with lights, and there’s a crate full of tabletop games to encourage patrons to linger.
As part of our small-scale manufacturing grant I’ve been out talking to local makers and producers to find out what resources they need to expand their business and locate on The Loop. Columbia has experts in textiles, printing, woodworking and more but by far the most common is people in food production. Whether it’s roasting coffee, fermenting kimchee, bottling BBQ sauce, or making tortillas, it seems everyone has a favorite recipe they’d love to share with others.
The Columbia Farmers Market supports local value-added products—after all, a farmer makes more on a jar of kimchee than a head of cabbage—and the planned farmers market pavilion will eventually have a first-stage commercial kitchen. However, we may need to start thinking about ways to provide more space for these startups, including affordable second-stage space where some costs are still shared and we can help mentor and market their businesses.
The Loop CID is still in the middle of a 9-month planning process so it will be interesting to see what recommendations our consultants may have regarding food production but just imagine what a difference it could mean to the Business Loop. If we could help incubate food startups we could increase the number of local restaurants on the corridor, offer talented people a path to business ownership, create new jobs within walking distance of neighborhoods, and solidify Columbia’s growing reputation as a local food mecca.
We’re still in the planning process so we encourage any makers out there—whether it’s food, furniture, or felting—to visit our website www.comomakes.com, learn about the program, and sign up on our Makers Registry. We’d love to have you making things right here on The Loop.
The following individuals have volunteered to serve on the Steering Committee for this Small-Scale Manufacturing Grant. These individuals represent a wide range of interests, all of which are invaluable to this project. As we progress, we’ll also be bringing in groups of makers, educators, bankers, and others who can offer insights to the committee.
Executive Director, Columbia STEM Alliance
Manager, City of Columbia Office of Sustainability
President, Regional Economic Development Inc.
Dean of Workforce Development & Technical Ed, MACC
Executive Director, The Loop CID
Plaza Commercial Realty
Chair, The Loop CID
Owner, Logboat Brewing Co.
Chamber Chair, Heubert Builders
Director of the Entrepreneurship Legal Clinic, MU
Director, Columbia Public Schools Career Center
Director, Missouri Women’s Business Center
The Business Loop Community Improvement District (CID) is one of six organizations in the nation selected to receive technical assistance tailored to help Columbia identify and support local, small-scale manufacturing along the Business Loop Corridor.
This type of manufacturing is locally-based and focused on the production of tangible, artisan goods. This includes value-added agricultural products, breweries and distilleries, bakeries, coffee roasters, textiles, woodworking, metalworking, and 3D-printing. These small manufacturing industries usually have between 1 and 30 employees and are focused on both retail sales and wholesale distribution.
The Business Loop CID will partner with Regional Economic Development Inc. (REDI) on this project. This assistance is made possible by the national organization Smart Growth America with funding from the U.S. Economic Development Administration. The technical assistance provided by Smart Growth America will be tailored to address Columbia’s specific needs, including both existing resources and potential obstacles to these local startups. While the immediate financial impact of this technical assistance is substantial, the true economic impact of the resulting action plan will be a revitalized, high-performing commercial corridor.
Locating local manufacturing along the Business Loop corridor will improve the economic health of the area the while remaining true to the character of the street.
“Not only do artisan industries and small-scale manufacturing fit with the DIY spirit on The Loop, it’s a great way to revitalize the corridor and distinguish us from other areas of Columbia,” said David Griggs, Chair of the Business Loop CID. “We’re absolutely thrilled to be selected to receive this assistance and can’t wait to get started.”
“REDI has a successful grow-your-own program for local entrepreneurs and we look forward to expanding this to local, small-scale manufacturing on The Loop,” said Jeff Echelmeier, REDI Chairman. “This is an opportunity to create jobs in an area suffering from high unemployment rates and assist in revitalizing a critical business corridor within Columbia.”
The Business Loop Community Improvement District was chosen from among 63 other organizations and communities in 32 different states who applied for this year’s program. The applicants included municipal governments, local non-profits, and regional- and state-level organizations.
The Business Loop CID is seeking to revitalize a working-class area with new, locally-owned manufacturers. Although a clear artisan movement with an active start-up culture has emerged in recent years, the city lacks a comprehensive policy to develop and encourage small-scale manufacturing. The Business Loop CID plans to partner with REDI, along with other key players in Columbia, to use this opportunity to implement workforce training, develop public financing mechanisms, and educate the real estate community about the potential of small-scale manufacturing. Particular attention will be paid to identifying and supporting those often outside the formal support structures, such as women and minority fabricators, producers, and makers.
Smart Growth America advocates for people who want to live and work in great neighborhoods. We believe smart growth solutions support thriving businesses and jobs, provide more options for how people get around and make it more affordable to live near work and the grocery store. Our coalition works with communities to fight sprawl and save money. We are improving lives by improving communities. https://smartgrowthamerica.org/
Regional Economic Development Inc. is a nonprofit, public/private partnership created to enhance the vitality of business and increase the number of quality, sustainable jobs in Columbia and Boone County, Missouri. They focus on attraction, expansion/retention, and entrepreneurship.http://www.columbiaredi.com/
The Business Loop Community Improvement District is an organization dedicated to creating an attractive and authentic multimodal corridor; attracting and retaining dynamic and innovative businesses, employees, and investors; designing a street that is safe, vibrant, and healthy; and communicating the importance of the area to Columbia. They recently completed a 10-year Corridor Plan to revitalize The Loop. http://theloopcomo.com/