There is a new opportunity in our changing cities to connect more residents with economic opportunity. We can do so by integrating small-scale industrial uses into our city development. Let’s call this mixed-use industrial real estate.
We are seeing a resurgence of small, local producers who are harnessing cheap technology and changing markets to sell hundreds and thousands of locally produced consumer products. Documented early on by Chris Anderson, and seen across the country today, these companies are often businesses with fewer than 20 employees and sell both in local markets and globally online.
These small-scale manufacturing business owners generally need dedicated production space of less than 5,000 square feet (often as little as 1,000 sq. ft), use clean technologies (think laser cutters), but need affordable, dedicated industrial/production space. They do not fit into office space because of noise, and most retail space is too expensive. So they often find marginal, cheap space at the fringes of our cities and survive on short-term leases or move far out into the suburbs.
The time is ripe for policy change and private sector investment to create this kind of development. The demand for small-scale consumer goods and locally made custom goods are growing and access to tools and technology gets cheaper. We need to provide affordable space for our local producers to grow their businesses in our city neighborhoods. By doing this, we will be able to connect more people to good-paying jobs, strengthen our small business and startup sector, and keep them all in the city.