Hammering out space for makers
Emerging artisans network to find available small space in the Industrial Grange
When asked what career and life advice he gives to new college grads, Silicon Valley venture capitalist John Lilly told the New York Times he often tells them to "stay close to professions that create and make things, and stay away from derivative professions like finance. Makers increasingly have the power in our society," he said.
In Portland, this could translate to staying close to Kelley Roy, a champion of Portland's new generation of makers and artisans.
In Roy's ongoing efforts to keep small, emerging manufacturers from being displaced in a soaring real estate market, she has started a service called Industrial Grange. The idea behind the grange is to connect Portland's small industrial manufacturers and makers to a network of available work space around the city.
Roy is in active conversations with ten property owners who are considering listing their buildings in the grange, she says. Nobody wants an empty building after all.
As the founder of ADX, a Central East Side shared work space where everyone from custom fabricators to fashion designers rub shoulders, Roy is a qualified matchmaker.
Portland Made, a separate company from ADX with members across multiple industries, had 342 members in 2015, according to a Portland State University report and member survey. The same report found that the annual revenue growth for Portland Made members was 37 percent, and that members employ 2,361 workers and produce $316 million in revenues.
Examples of Portland Made members that needed more room to scale their business include Spooltown, an industrial sewing company; KrownLab, maker of sliding door hardware and Mudshark, a custom ceramics business.
Eight makers currently connected to ADX also want to set out on their own and grow, says Roy. "These people are ready to grow but want to stay close to where they live and within easy commuting distance. So we keep scouring industrial areas and neighborhoods inside Portland."
ADX also just leased an additional 10,000 square feet next door, making the campus 30,000 square feet with off-street parking. It's design and fabrication department will move into the recently leased space.
"We plan to double or triple our production in 2017," says Roy.
Room to grow
As many industrial spaces convert to creative office space, the small makers looking for 500 square feet — not 5,000 — are being squeezed out in search of the allusive good deal.
"The City has really pigeon-holed itself with all this office space," says Roy, "and they're missing a chance to leverage a diversified and robust maker class."
It's an opportunity to invest in stability over the tech industry's boom and bust cycle, she says.
Roy cites people like those at Portland Razor Company. The three-person company makes straight-edge razors.
"We first heard about ADX online when we were looking for resources to start a small company," says Alex Pletcher, one of the founders. "The community aspect was important to us, and we thought it would be nice to have people around as we started a new business in Portland."
Portland Razor Company started out in a 10 ft. x 10 ft. room at ADX and then moved three times as they expanded, adding a new grinder and a laser cutter as they scaled their business.
They are one of two companies in the U.S. making straight razors, a practice that fell out fashion in 1900s in the U.S. The last manufacturer of straight edge razors closed in the '30s.
Portland Razor eventually found a new spot in Portland's Lair Hill neighborhood, near the historic Vance Land Building, one of the first properties to list with the Industrial Grange.
"It's perfect and tucked away, and it's compartmentalized so all the spaces work for us," says Pletcher.
After moving to a 1,200 square foot space Portland Razor immediately tripled their through-put in a couple of weeks, Pletcher says.
The location is close to downtown and has parking. The former woodworker's shop accommodates their mix of production and custom work that is largely direct-to-client. It's what's known as lean manufacturing, where all phases of production from beginning to end are handled in one place.
"Our fit and finish is so high," says Pletcher, "And we stand by our 100 percent American Made standards."
PRC expects to continue to grow and expand with 40 percent of clients first-time straight shavers. The company is backordered six to eight weeks right now.
In hindsight the search was hard, says Pletcher. "We're very grateful to our new landlord because we weren't in start-up mode anymore, we didn't want to be working in space that's 30 degrees in winter."