TALENT — A makerspace that will encourage local entrepreneurs and supply them with tools, equipment and space is close to opening its first component.
The space will eventually allow budding inventors to create prototypes, take craftmanship classes and engage in small-scale manufacturing.
Nonprofit Talent Maker City has nearly finished renovation of a former call center in the 300 block of Main Street that will accommodate a variety of activities. Woodworking classes will likely start in late October, because that area will be the first to become operational.
A super soft opening was held Saturday for high school STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) students from around the region in conjunction with Southern Oregon ESD. They were able to study types of equipment used in STEM learning.
“There are people who have outgrown their garages,” said Ali French, Talent Maker City vice chair and program director. “It’s economic development at its core.”
The organization is talking with one individual who has a patented, marketable product but needs more space for manufacturing, as well as trained workers. Talent Maker City might be able to help with both needs.
“We’ll show you how to do it, then you do it yourself,” said Ryan Wilcoxson, Talent Maker City chair and director.
Inventors could construct their own prototypes in the space rather than having to send designs off to firms that might take considerable time to create a product.
“It’s known as rapid prototyping,” said Wilcoxson. If something doesn’t work, it can be revised quickly on the spot.
Space will also be allocated for a basic metal shop, a ceramics area with clay wheels, a screen-printing center and a sewing center. A small blacksmith area may be included. Some equipment will be mounted on wheels so it can be easily moved and the space rearranged for activities.
Equipment has been donated or secured with grants. It ranges from basic hand tools to CNC cutters and 3-D printers. Much of the equipment was donated by industries or as people cleaned out no-longer used workshops and garages.
Membership opportunities will likely happen early next year. Members would be able to use the space and tools to pursue their dreams. Individual memberships may run about $40 per month, said Wilcoxson, and there will be options for businesses and groups. Use of the facilities could also be secured for less time. Fees, hours and other arrangements are still being determined.
“We want people to be able to come in after hours and on weekends,” said French. Staffing will need to be set up.
Talent Maker City views the facility as a middle step before further expansion in a couple of years. Talent Urban Renewal Agency’s Gateway Project conceptual plan shows a site for a makerspace. Talent Maker City and TURA will discuss a potential agreement for location there at a later time, said Wilcoxson.
Talent Maker City has leased the 3,700-square-foot Main Street site. All renovation work was done by volunteers, and the city of Talent has supplied funds from discretionary sources for refinishing the floor and interior painting. About $7,500 has been spent for renovation supplies.
Grants, income from classes and fundraisers have produced enough revenue to pay site rental. A holiday fair and auction last year raised $15,000 for the organization, and the fair will be held again in December.
The organization has contracted with educational entities in the region to offer classes, and it also offers its own sessions. Instructors are paid. A “Carpentry for Women” class has been very popular, said French.
French and Wilcoxson have kept their day jobs while devoting hours to the effort. French, a former Ashland High School teacher, works part time for the ESD. Wilcoxson owns a media design and development company. Ultimately the group plans to have classes, membership fees, grants and fundraising to produce enough revenue for paid administrative positions.
Talent Maker City got its start in May 2016 when French, Wilcoxson, ceramic artist Karen Rycheck and Mayor Darby Ayers-Flood went to a makerspace conference in Brooklyn put on by online marketplace Etsy. Talent was the smallest city chosen to attend, along with Chicago, Los Angeles and other municipalities. More information can be found at www.talentmakercity.org.
Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at firstname.lastname@example.org