Portland’s maker economy – PMC Report 2015

Last night we presented the results of the 2015 Portland Made Collective (PMC) survey to an audience at ADX Portland. This year’s survey responses shared a lot of similarities to last year’s survey, although we asked new questions this year that yielded interesting results. Some of the highlights of this year’s survey include:

  • Through a series of incentives and weekly reminders, we were able to reach a 25% response rate
  • The symmetry between 2014 and 2015’s reports give us confidence that the trends we have identified are real
  • These repeated trends include evidence of a “sweet spot” somewhere between the $500,000 and $1 million in revenue where firms experience a hiring spurt of full time workers
  • Also for the second year in a row, we saw clustering around two revenue ranges: 26 firms at the $0-20,000 range and 24 firms at the $100,000-500,000 range. The lower range clustering is not surprising, but we would have expected uniform attrition rather than another spike in firms at the $100,000-500,000 range.

Some of the new findings from this year’s report include:

  • PMC member firms employed almost 2400 people and generated revenues of almost $320 million
  • Revenue growth for PMC members was 37% on average
  • PMC members contribute to the local economy: 51% of all materials were reported as sourced locally, and 95% of all final assembly was done locally

Also included in the report (download here) is some mapping that is meant to show the clustering of PMC members and other maker firms around the industrial neighborhoods in the central city. Most interesting is a heat map we put together that shows the intensity of this clustering. For that map, we included over 470 unique data points including maker-style boutiques, makerspaces, suppliers, and other ecosystem resources. Clustering is important for numerous reasons – access to relevant labor pools, suppliers, retail storefronts, and so forth. That map is below:

Heatmap revised

Lastly, we addressed the problem of affordable space for PMC members on the survey, and as we suspected, over 60% of PMC members see affordable space as a prominent challenge for the future of their firms. Breaking the responses down by revenue category revealed uniform concern across revenue ranges; in other words, regardless of revenue, all PMC members are concerned with their future ability to mitigate the rising cost of manufacturing space in Portland.



The Demise of the Towne Storage Building: A Sign of the Times for Portland’s Makers, Artists, and Artisans?

We had been hearing whispers about the sale of Portland’s Towne Storage building while doing interviews in the Central Eastside over the past six months, but in September we finally got confirmation. The sale of the building, in which roughly 500 artists, makers, and artisans had been renting space, is said to have happened without the building even being for sale – this says something about the demand for space in Portland’s close-in neighborhoods. But the eviction of the building’s tenants is just the latest in an extended period of spatial uncertainty for Portland’s maker community.

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State of the Collective 2015

The second annual Portland Made “State of the Collective” survey is ready to go out to Portland Made Collective members. Last year we did a similar survey, presenting the results at ADX Portland for a large audience of collective members, political leaders, entrepreneurs, makers, and community leaders from across Portland. Some of our most important findings from last year included:

  • Over 90% of small maker enterprises do not show up on national small business databases
  • Despite their relative invisibility, small maker enterprises had a large impact on the local economy
    • Employed over 1,000 people
    • Generated over $250 million in revenue
    • Revenue growth over a three year period averaged 61%
  • Maker enterprises have a “sweet spot” threshold; this speaks to a link between revenue and job creation in which firms transition from mostly part-time to full-time jobs somewhere in the $500,000 to $1million revenue range

Check out the white paper we released for more information on last year’s findings. The important point, which cannot be overstated, is that these results point to a strong need to nourish the maker and artisan community here in Portland; the survey results generally supported a need to further develop the systems of resources that will grow the making community and make Portland an international leader in the maker movement. If you are a PMC member, and you are reading this, it is vital that you respond to this year’s survey (Update: we have added a new incentive: click here to download your complementary DIY swag bag).

We spent a great deal of time developing this year’s survey, bringing an extra member onboard (thanks Will!) to help us craft it. We expect a to have a great deal of new insights from this year’s results; we have better questions, a more fine tuned system of analysis in place, and, perhaps most importantly, we are getting good at understanding the nuances of the maker community in Portland. Stay tuned for this year’s results…

The (Contested) Origins of Urban Cultural Space

Last week I was turned on to this article in Noise and Color PDX. A remark in the comments section about the cheap urban spaces in rustbelt cities made me reflect a bit on the development of “scenes” relative to transformations in the physical space of a city. We can all think of examples of these scenes – punk rock (NYC), rave culture (Detroit/Chicago), or as the article addresses, ‘indie’ music (Portland/Austin). It strikes me that the emergence of these scenes are usually treated as authentic moments of origin, as if nothing was there before, or as if the emergent scene had no effect on the previously existing culture of a place. Maybe this perception of authenticity explains why people lament the commercialization or mainstreaming of a particular scene. This seems especially true, as captured by the aforementioned article, in light of gentrification, rising rents, and the cultural shifts that accompany it all. Yet scenes do not emerge out of nothing: Walter Benjamin has already invited us to think about origins as more than what has emerged, but also what has disappeared.

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The Uncertain Future of Brooklyn’s DIY Music Community

“You’re probably getting used to hearing news like this in Williamsburg, so we’ll cut right to the chase . . .”

So begins the obituary for Glasslands, a self-described “homegrown community art space turned psychedelic venue partyhaus” which established itself during the mid-aughts at 289 Kent Avenue in Williamsburg — and, due to a sudden lease termination, hosted its very last performance at the end of 2014. Glasslands’ closure follows the recent, forced shuttering of two other Brooklyn “DIY” music venues, Death by Audio and 285 Kent. Clustered within a single building along the Brooklyn waterfront, the site of these bygone venues will soon be home to Vice Media — parent company of the perennially cool Vice Magazine — who have begun to convert the gritty spaces into a sprawling office complex. In the words of 285 Kent founder Ric Leichtung, these venues were situated amongst “the breeding grounds of American hipster culture,” a milieu which helped launch Brooklyn into the international public imagination, and ignited local interest in harnessing Brooklyn’s bohemian art and music culture as a tool for economic revitalization. This trajectory isn’t necessarily unique to Brooklyn; in many cities, DIY venues set up shop in inexpensive corners of the urban core, often anticipating — and, in the eyes of some, instigating — waves of reinvestment and gentrification. In the case of north Brooklyn, these waves significantly transformed the urban landscape from a “forgotten backwater, scattered with old warehouses” into one of New York City’s hottest real estate markets.

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Omaha, Indie Rock, and Urban Redevelopment


Music scenes are more than just a collection of bands. I’ve spent the last few years observing that they function much like Silicon Valley-esque economic clusters with the power to transform parts of a city. Recently, The Washington Post decided to follow-up on research I conducted in Omaha wherein I examined how the city’s indie music scene became a catalyst for urban redevelopment. What they found is a scene continuing to grow and a music-based urban redevelopment project, Slowdown, that has met everyone’s expectations. You can read their story here. The newspaper then asked me a few questions about how music scenes – and art in general – can be harnessed for the benefit of participants and the cities in which they live. That interview is here.

When an Indie Record Label Relocates to Your City

Asthmatic Kitty Records
Independent record labels are usually products of thriving local music scenes. Sometimes, if the stars align, they reach a level of success and benefit their surrounding urban landscapes. Factory Records in Manchester, Saddle Creek Records in Omaha, and Righteous Babe Records in Buffalo are some examples of indie record labels that reinvested profits into local redevelopment projects. Asthmatic Kitty Records set-up shop in Indianapolis without having any prior ties to the city and quickly found ways to integrate its efforts within the local arts community. This integration helped foster new connections and drive the city’s creative economy. For the full story, click here to read my latest work for The Atlantic’s CityLab.

What if Hewlett and Packard had Started a Band Instead?…

Phtot: Andi Harman
Photo: Andi Harman

I never tire of reading about the birth and development of both Silicon Valley and successful music scenes like Seattle’s grunge explosion, Austin’s progressive country movement, and the free jazz that filled lofts of New York City decades ago. It wasn’t until I woke up one morning in a van on a side street in Chicago that I realized how similar one is to the other. I had just started a doctoral program in urban planning and public policy while also playing in a band in Denton, Texas. My participation in Denton’s music scene – and the larger national network of scenes it is a part of – allowed me to examine directly how a music scene operates. An earlier result of this participatory experience was my master’s thesis, and later journal article, concerning Saddle Creek Records and “Slowdown,” a $10.2 million dollar urban redevelopment project in Omaha, Nebraska. For my dissertation, I wanted to continue my immersion as a scene participant in order to examine a subject that is largely overlooked – how music scenes catalyze economic and community development for cities.

On that particular July day in Chicago, it was already uncomfortably warm at 9AM and while walking across the street to the Walgreens to take a “shower,” I thought to myself, is this any different than my friend’s sister who used to sleep underneath her desk every night in Silicon Valley while she helped launched a start-up? Are music scenes like Silicon Valley’s economic cluster with bands as firms operating in a milieu of innovation that includes venue owners, audio engineers, graphic designers, filmmakers, promoters, and others cooperating and competing? I asked myself… What if Hewlett and Packard had started a band instead?

I dedicated the next few years to researching and writing my dissertation, What if Hewlett and Packard had Started a Band Instead?… Denton, Texas’ Music Scene as Economic Cluster and its Broader Implications for the City’s Economy. By framing Denton’s music scene in Michael Porter’s economic cluster theory, which is commonly used to explain why Silicon Valley has a regional advantage in productivity, innovation, and new business formation, I was able to better understand the dynamics of music scenes as economic agents. This work allowed me to further demonstrate what I first learned with my research in Omaha – that music scenes have many positive externalities for their host cities, and if fostered correctly with policy, can benefit both participant and city. In the coming months, I’ll post more about my findings. Until then, here’s a link to my research concerning Omaha and information about the garage where Hewlett and Packard launched a company.




Karoke as art

Karoke as art?   Dan Kois,  senior editor at Slate and a contributing writer to New Yorker magazine consider this in How Good Does Karaoke Have to Be to Qualify as Art?.   Is this just another paean to Portland. Yes, but something more, and along the way he does capture why Portland is a special place for artisans.

Portland isn’t just the capital of karaoke, I was realizing. The Japanese influence, the small-business climate and the abundance of bands don’t really matter. Portland is the capital of America’s small ponds. It’s a city devoted to chasing that feeling — the feeling of doing something you love, just for a moment, and being recognized for it, no matter how obscure or unnecessary or ludicrous it might seem to the straight world. It is the capital of taking frivolity seriously, of being silly as if it’s your job.


My New York State on Mind: Part Two the Mast Brothers

Note: This is a second post from Darren Hoad, Senior Lecturer, Edge Hill University, UK.  Check out his beautifulbizz blog

My Trip to New York was intended as research but there was a point where work and pleasure became indistinguishable. As a consumer of chocolate, my visit to Mast Brothers Chocolatiers in Williamsburg in New York was a long anticipated indulgence (for research purposes you understand). I had used the case of the Mast Brothers during teaching sessions in the UK, examining the nature of consumption, production, localism, arts and craftsmanship. I have to admit to being a lover of chocolate. I tend to eat most types, most brands, milk or dark, it doesn’t matter. I consume but don’t think too much about where it comes from and how it is made. I eat chocolate therefore I am. However, industrially produced and mass manufactured chocolate is changing. The chocolate doesn’t taste as nice as it once did, and the bars are getting smaller! Continue reading