Made in NYC is one of a few organizations in New York working to promote manufacturing in the City. It’s run out of the Pratt Center for Community Development and along with working with groups like the Urban Manufacturing Alliance, they also recently launched a new project called Spec It Green, which is designed to help builders source sustainable and environmentally friendly building materials. Given the amount of development around the city, it’s pretty huge.
I went over to Pratt to speak with Josh Eichen, Business Outreach Coordinator for Pratt Center for Community Development and Made in NYC, about the changes in the City’s manufacturing landscape and what Made in NYC is up to.
We hear a lot about "reshoring" and the "new industrial revolution." Describe the manufacturing landscape in New York City. What’s it like to be a manufacturer in New York now?
New York City is obviously a tough place to be a manufacturer because of the real estate pressures. The land available for manufacturing has shrunk considerably in the last administration from rezoning and it continues to shrink. You have high real estate prices. You have relatively high labor costs. Those are just some of the challenges in the universe of being a manufacturer in New York City.
But there are benefits. You’re close to a large consumer market. You have access to this great labor pool. And you have access to a lot of creative designers.
What sort of trends are you seeing?
As far as trend wise. They (New York City manufacturers) don’t compete on price they compete on quality and customization. There are still some big manufacturers Kirschner Brushes in the Bronx and Worksman Bicycles in Ozone Park. The new business that are starting up tend to be smaller operations developing very customizable, high quality, small run lines.
Yeah Machinemade is different. Their super unique. They represent a move towards distributive manufacturing where a designer can work with them to produce prototypes or very small run of products.
Are you thinking like food manufacturers?
Yeah, so there’s the food sector that does that. Food manufacturing is the fastest growing manufacturing sector in new York City. Firms engaged in food manufacturing have grown 11.4% since 2008, and employees engaged in food manufacturing have grown 5.1%.
So the food manufacturing sector is growing. In general is manufacturing growing?
In general, it’s shrinking. But if you look at the business trends it was in a nosedive until 2010. But now it’s actually starting to level off and even grow in some sectors. Building materials, there’s growth in that sector as well.
Are there certain geographical areas that will attract future manufacturing?
I think you’re already seeing it. Southwest Brooklyn is the hotspot for manufacturing right now because of the availability of space. Long Island City is another hotspot. Staten Island has the potential to be a hotspot because they have a ton of space but it’s kind of a pain to get to.
One of the problems I’ve seen is the disconnect between designers and factories. A lot of people with Kickstarters or Etsy stores may not know how to get their products made in a factory.
Totally. That’s a real issue but it's also a huge opportunity. It means if people are trying to make stuff that’s really positioning people who know how to make stuff. It’s putting them in a good place.
One of the issues is people may just not be ready to manufacture. They might not have the right designs. They haven’t refined the product. They might not know how to price it. Those are some barriers.
On the manufacturer side, they’re busy trying to run a business and may not really have time to sit down with a designer or individual to work out the best way to get their product made. They might not see it as worth it to them.
Especially if it’s small run.
Exactly. Though some are doing that. And some sectors are easier than others. The apparel sector is a little easier even though some fashion designers may not know how to bring a pattern or a sample to a factory facility. Some businesses are starting to see that opportunity and work with those people.
To bring it back to Made in NYC. What is the problem that you’re addressing?
Made in NYC does a bunch of different things. The program is designed to support and promote the manufacturing sector in New York City and we try and do that by engaging a large group of manufacturers on the website and make them available to people. So if you’re a consumer and you want to find a locally made product, you can search it pretty easily. If you’re a designer or entrepreneur and you want to manufacture a product, you can use our website to find a business that can facilitate the contract and needs.
And we also try and use it to educate people about manufacturing. Why manufacturing is important to the city. You know, who are these manufacturers? What does a factory look like in the 21st century? Because there’s some misconceptions that people have. They might not understand that there is manufacturing still, or think that it’s dirty, or whatever. But these are actually really great businesses with passionate people and they provide jobs, well paying jobs.
At the end of the day that’s what ties it all together for the Pratt Center. Our goal is to promote a sustainable and equitable city, equitable on a economic scale, and the manufacturing sector has well paying jobs, better than the service sector and retail jobs. It has lower barriers to entry for education and language and can act as a real stepping stone into the middle class for New Yorkers.