An Overlooked Economic Powerhouse for Small Cities

Attracting a major employer or a tech company is not the only economic development strategy that deserves attention and investment.

2 minute read

May 27, 2021, 12:00 PM PDT

By rkaufman

Local Crafts and Goods

A community street fair on Long Island. | WoodysPhotos / Shutterstock

When community leaders in Columbia, Missouri, first set out to revitalize The Loop, the prospects felt daunting. This stretch of Highway 40 serves as the entrance to Columbia but has been neglected for decades. Local small businesses were few, and struggling.

Leaders organized conversations with neighbors to understand what types of businesses were currently in the region, what the community wanted, and how this effort could contribute to broader city priorities. They soon learned that one particular type of business held an uncommonly powerful potential to support transformation.

Small-scale manufacturers like Claysville Creations and Heartland Soapworks were selling products online as well as in retail spaces, creating jobs, and — most crucially — attracting visitors who want to buy products right where they’re made. The project team realized these would be perfect businesses to be among the first to build a destination in The Loop. Because they sell online, they don’t depend on foot traffic, but still create a reason for people to visit and stay awhile.

Small-scale manufacturers produce anything from textiles to hardware to beer or coffee and more. Unlike large manufacturers, they fit into relatively small square footage and are clean, quiet neighbors. They are well-positioned to compete in the digital economy, but also fill storefronts and contribute to a thriving downtown or business district. They create jobs at a variety of skill levels, and it’s often women, immigrants, and Black, Latino or other business owners of color at their helm. Many owners operate these businesses out of their homes or garages at first, so your neighborhood might be home to small-scale manufacturers already.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021 in Next City

Chicago Intercity Rail

Amtrak Ramping Up Infrastructure Projects

Thanks to federal funding from the 2021 infrastructure act, the agency plans to triple its investment in infrastructure improvements and new routes in the next two years.

September 25, 2023 - Smart Cities Dive

Google maps street view of San Francisco alleyway.

Ending Downtown San Francisco’s ‘Doom Loop’

A new public space project offers an ambitious vision—so why is the city implementing it at such a small scale?

September 26, 2023 - Fast Company

Google street view of yellow "End Freeway 1/4 mile" sign on 90 freeway in Los Angeles, California.

Proposal Would Transform L.A.’s ‘Freeway to Nowhere’ Into Park, Housing

A never-completed freeway segment could see new life as a mixed-use development with housing, commercial space, and one of the county’s largest parks.

September 26, 2023 - Los Angeles Times

Traffic on the 405 interstate freeway through the Sepulveda Pass at Getty Center Drive in Los Angeles, California

Report: Bike Lanes Can't Make up for New Roads

If California wants to meet its climate goals, the state must stop funding its myriad road construction and expansion projects.

5 hours ago - Streetsblog California

Late evening view of downtown Minneapolis skyline with stone bridge in foreground

Minneapolis Affordable Housing Project Largest in 20 Years

The city opened its first large multifamily affordable housing complex in decades, but a recent court ruling against the Minneapolis 2040 rezoning plan could jeopardize future projects.

6 hours ago - Minnesota Public Radio

Close-up of vertical PARK sign on multistory urban parking garage.

NYC Mayor Proposes Eliminating Parking Minimums

Mayor Adams wants to stop requiring off-site parking for new buildings to reduce the costs of construction as part of the ‘City of Yes’ package of zoning reforms.

7 hours ago - StreetsBlog NYC

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.