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Developing Craft Entrepreneurship: An Update

Jul 11, 2013

by Dana Mauriello

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods

In March, we told you about an exciting partnership that we are working on with the city of Rockford, Illinois and the local Rockford Etsy Team to foster entrepreneurship in underserved communities. A lot has happened since then and we wanted to update you on the progress. Right now, along with experts ranging from Etsy sellers to Small Business Administration advisors to local teachers, we’re developing the Craft Entrepreneurship curriculum that will provide the business skills needed to turn craft talent into economic opportunity. Based on a Rockford Housing Authority survey, we’ve learned that residents’ skills and interests range from glass making to sculpting. We are incorporating these findings and gearing up to launch publicly in September with the Housing Authority and Rockford Public Schools.

Last month, Mayor Larry Morrissey and I attended the Clinton Global Initiative America meeting to share our ideas with leaders from government, business and nonprofit sectors. We spent most of our time talking about manufacturing and workforce development and brought a different perspective on the power of entrepreneurship. At the conference, Etsy made a commitment to launch our program in Rockford, then expand to additional cities and make the curriculum available online. In his closing remarks, President Clinton highlighted our commitment as he spoke about an economy of shared prosperity, and turning ideas into action! You can watch his remarks here (jump ahead to 1:19:37 to hear about our program):

Since announcing this initiative in March, we’ve received a lot of follow-up questions from the public. So we got Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson and Mayor Morrissey into conversation to unpack all the big ideas at play in this experiment. What follows is an excerpt.

CD: This is an unorthodox partnership. Typically, when public officials try to create economic opportunities, they want to attract big employers from other jurisdictions. Instead, we are focused on fostering entrepreneurship. Why?
LM: Rockford has suffered the same fate as many older manufacturing communities from decades of learned economic codependency. While the post-WWII manufacturing economy once helped us become one of the wealthiest communities in the country, today we find ourselves far behind.

Like other US cities, our strengths became handicaps. Over the last 50 years, we focused on churning out employees instead of entrepreneurs as we chased after global economic trends. Along the way, we lost many of our local business owners; we saw the making of actual goods devalued; and we saw many high-paying manufacturing jobs leave as our nation celebrated new sectors like financial services. The net result today is that much of our community’s aggregate wealth goes to out-of-town owners through national retail chains and national or international industrial employers.

While a job working for a big industrial or retail employer may work for some of our citizens, many have been left behind. The combined impact of service jobs has not resulted in a net benefit to our community. Sadly, we’ve lost much of the resilience and self-reliance we once had when we were a city made up of strong local crafters, manufacturers and entrepreneurs. Only entrepreneurship can ensure that we break our cycle of dependency.

Etsy generates the energy and opportunities for entrepreneurship that once characterized communities like Rockford all around the country. The type of partnership we have created with Etsy has the benefit of low cost and great agility. We’re not starting from scratch. We’re activating existing assets with a fundamentally different approach. The potential to create positive, active economic output is outstanding.

CD: We’re inspired by your vision and agree that the potential is huge, but Etsy is only one piece of the puzzle. How do you think about holistically creating economic growth in Rockford?
LM: Our most important and promising resource is our people. Unfortunately, our 20th century industrial model drove many talented individuals to “sit on the bench” waiting for someone else to hire them or provide support for them. But positive changes are happening right now. Human capital is the biggest asset we have for creating new economic opportunities in Rockford and building a culture of entrepreneurship support putting that capital to work.

Cities are filled with incredible resources and, frankly, all of the necessary ingredients to “save ourselves.” Federal resources have their place, but we need to solve our local challenges with local assets. Communities like Rockford spend millions of tax dollars annually on public schools, parks and recreation, community colleges, workforce training efforts, public housing and assistance programs, and more. Instead of working in silos, like we did in the past, we’re working to align goals and resources around a shared table. We’re exploring areas where we can work in partnership with our private sector toward new economic enterprises.

Spending money and having the component parts are not enough. We need to act differently. It’s inspiring to think of how much we can accomplish by activating our many community institutions and assets with new, low-cost technology tools and platforms that have already been created like Etsy.

CD: These are really big, challenging problems to solve. What do you tell naysayers who think entrepreneurship is too risky for vulnerable populations, or that our partnership isn’t scalable enough for what your city needs?
LM: If necessity is the so-called mother of invention, we have to become the best inventors in the country. Communities like Rockford have the greatest incentive to shift quickly to a 21st century economy of producers. This is the human economy that Etsy represents.

We have making and creating in our bones. The non-maker, consumer economy is the anomaly. If we can drive entrepreneurship into the American education system and the American social services system, we will see a massive change in economic achievement.

We’re seeing an explosion of new platforms like Etsy that allow people to use their skills and interests to make a living while growing their knowledge and avoiding debt. The maker movement and sharing economy movements offer a pathway for resilience and sustainability that bodes very well for cities like Rockford that support and facilitate community interactions and creativity.

etsy_rockford

Rockford Etsy Team Captain Kari McDonald, Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson, Mayor Larry Morrissey, and Rockford Housing Authority CEO Ron Clewer join forces.

Are you interested in having a Craft Entrepreneurship launch in your town? Let us know. We want to hear your thoughts on where we should expand after the Rockford pilot program!

4 Featured Comments

  • PruAtelier

    Jeanne B from PruAtelier said 5 years ago Featured

    Excellent post and a subject dear to my heart....the revitalization of "lost" America! In this day, all ones needs is a computer, a camera and an "eye"...that is an eye that has a vision that comes to life in an easy and inexpensive way. I agree wholeheartedly too that the big boys - big retail and big industry - have left way too many people behind either in climbing up the ladder and/or pushing them out the door. Individual entrepreneurs must be bred through resurrecting classes once again in the the schools, such as the industrial arts, ceramics, sewing, cooking, etc.; heaven knows our tax dollars should be better spent! Open up all the deserted factories, warehouses too for low rent studios for new artisans.... Oh, there are so many possibilities that are there, we just have to keep the momentum up and show these once-flourishing towns that great revival can be had!

  • michellearnold

    Michelle Paine from michellearnold said 5 years ago Featured

    I appreciate the vision and hopefulness expressed here. We hear a lot about economic doom and gloom in this country, and this conversation is saying, sure, the economy as we know it isn't doing well, it's changing, and that becomes an opportunity for millions of people.

  • studiotullia

    Suzanne Fortescue from studiotullia said 5 years ago Featured

    I started my business out if economic necessity three years ago. Portland, like everywhere else, was hit hard during the recession and I had three year old twins to care for. Etsy gave me the platform and I took the challenge. Have over 1500 sales and products sold all over the U.S. and internationally. Love Etsy for what it stands for. Handmade Revolution rock on! Portland soooo needs Etsy.

  • OceansideCastle

    Laura from OceansideCastle said 5 years ago Featured

    Bravo to you Etsy for paving new paths for artisans and entrepreneurs not only in America, but across the globe. The Industrial Revolution changed the world economy. Technology and outsourcing changed the job market. Change is inevitable; some good, some not so much. Small home based businesses build strong communities with stronger economic growth potential. Etsy is so much more than an online marketplace. Etsy represents the revival of entrepreneurship and renewal in appreciation of art. This is a change for the better. I'm proud to be part of it.

42 comments

  • vinylclockwork

    Scott from vinylclockwork said 5 years ago

    Very Exciting Stuff. People at Etsy keep doing great Things

  • BackyardBrand

    Jim McLean from BackyardBrand said 5 years ago

    The Chicago Manufacturing Renaissance Council might share some of your goals and provide a convergence with these efforts. They're located at the Austin Polytechnical Academy.

  • PrairiePrimitives

    Tana Taylor from PrairiePrimitives said 5 years ago

    I'd be interested in helping with something like this here in Sacramento! I have "captain'd" the Sac Etsy Team since it began about 4.5 years ago and there are currently about 135 members on the team. I recently worked with two of our members to try and help them get their shops in tip-top shape so they could get more views and, hopefully, sales.

  • telepelekids

    ilanit bronstein from telepelekids said 5 years ago

    Wow,this is great,well done!happy to be part of etsy.

  • BloomysBaubles

    Kim Bloomberg from KimBloombergDesigns said 5 years ago

    This is a wonderful collaboration! Very inspiring. I would participate if this took place in Chicago. Great job Rockford!

  • GeorgieGirlLLC

    D George from GeorgieGirlLLC said 5 years ago

    Great post! I am still working on my independence. Thanks for the post!!

  • SanFilippoLeather

    SanFilippoLeather from SanFilippoLeather said 5 years ago

    Love to see the CEO of Etsy rockin' one of our belts!

  • mouserrano

    Lisa Serrano Diaz from PrincessMouseyCards said 5 years ago

    Great story. My city of Austin, TX is very crafty, but I like this inspiring story all the same.

  • PruAtelier

    Jeanne B from PruAtelier said 5 years ago Featured

    Excellent post and a subject dear to my heart....the revitalization of "lost" America! In this day, all ones needs is a computer, a camera and an "eye"...that is an eye that has a vision that comes to life in an easy and inexpensive way. I agree wholeheartedly too that the big boys - big retail and big industry - have left way too many people behind either in climbing up the ladder and/or pushing them out the door. Individual entrepreneurs must be bred through resurrecting classes once again in the the schools, such as the industrial arts, ceramics, sewing, cooking, etc.; heaven knows our tax dollars should be better spent! Open up all the deserted factories, warehouses too for low rent studios for new artisans.... Oh, there are so many possibilities that are there, we just have to keep the momentum up and show these once-flourishing towns that great revival can be had!

  • michellearnold

    Michelle Paine from michellearnold said 5 years ago Featured

    I appreciate the vision and hopefulness expressed here. We hear a lot about economic doom and gloom in this country, and this conversation is saying, sure, the economy as we know it isn't doing well, it's changing, and that becomes an opportunity for millions of people.

  • LuzminasCorner

    Luzmina Jalil from LuzminasCorner said 5 years ago

    This is amazing!!! well done ETSY team :D

  • LillyanLou

    Karmen Bryer from LillyanLou said 5 years ago

    I am super excited to be involved with the Rockford ETSY initiative!

  • aejbenge

    Adriana Benge-van Dijk from CreativeGarters said 5 years ago

    Etsy rocks!! Happy to sell on here!!

  • ActionCraftworks

    ActionCraftworks from ActionCraftworks said 5 years ago

    Before the industrial age, most people were farmers, blacksmiths, weavers, or other artisans. The current recession has allowed many people to return to entrepreneurship instead of relying on an employer. This sounds great!

  • FreshRetroGallery

    Elizabeth Knaus from FreshRetroGallery said 5 years ago

    Solomon, Kansas may have a small population, but great things are found here! The Etsy web connection erases boundaries.

  • oui2reveille

    Reveille Kennedy from ReveilleKennedyart said 5 years ago

    You know, the thing I love about Etsy, is that no matter your age or talent, you can inexpensively join and strut your stuff! Entrepreneurs have to be gutsy and wholesome. They have to create impulsively, with great abandonment, and confidence, Etsians are the best!

  • chilsunyou

    sun from OmyPrincess said 5 years ago

    Hi Etsy family you guys doing wonderful job . I recentely open omyprincess.com I still dont know how I can be a good seller. Nobody knows my shop. Is anyone can give me some help . Thank you

  • mimishingleton

    Mimi from aTreasureInStore said 5 years ago

    It's inspiring to read this and know Etsy is actively involved. I'm excited to watch it unfold.

  • bridgettorres

    Bridget Torres from Bridgetsbeadworks said 5 years ago

    I loved hearing the news about what Etsy is doing for others. I wish you could come to Manassas,VA. We have so many crafters here and not enough supplies! I really want to open a supply store and get the ball rolling! Congrats Etsy!!!

  • lifeartdesigns

    Janie from lifeartdesigns said 5 years ago

    Very interesting article! I see the original Etsy dream is still alive and beginning to unfold. Excited to see how this goes in the future with Rockford.

  • Cotswold27

    Gem from FleurdeLisFarm said 5 years ago

    Titillating and astute reading! Anticipating further posts as this movement advances. Merci!

  • handmadebycecilia

    Cecilia Escobar from HandmadebyCecilia said 5 years ago

    Great deal of inspiration here. Thanks. I would like to participate in something similar here in Michigan, especially Detroit. Talking about manufacturing? Detroit. Thanks.

  • robayre

    Robyn Wells from robayre said 5 years ago

    I'm so proud of the Rockford area and thankful for Etsy. This is a great partnership and I'm thrilled to be involved.

  • MomsantiquesNthings

    Janine from MomsantiquesNthings said 5 years ago

    Great article, would love to be involved in something close to my home, with so many artisans displaying their work at festivals and craft shows in and around Rochester, NY (I am about 30 miles south of there) I'm sure It would be welcomed with open arms within a 50 mile radius or more! So many people have lost jobs especially with all the Kodak layoffs, this area could use some help building home businesses.

  • JodiRaeDesigns

    Jodi Brownstein from JodiRaeDesigns said 5 years ago

    Wow! This is amazing!

  • studiotullia

    Suzanne Fortescue from studiotullia said 5 years ago Featured

    I started my business out if economic necessity three years ago. Portland, like everywhere else, was hit hard during the recession and I had three year old twins to care for. Etsy gave me the platform and I took the challenge. Have over 1500 sales and products sold all over the U.S. and internationally. Love Etsy for what it stands for. Handmade Revolution rock on! Portland soooo needs Etsy.

  • azuredevi

    Azure Burmeister from SimplePlum said 5 years ago

    Hooray for a DIY craft revolution!

  • studiotullia

    Suzanne Fortescue from studiotullia said 5 years ago

    Want to add that I have been taking an amazing entrepreneurship course. The business outreach program at Portland State University. They accepted me into the program due to my high sales record on Etsy. Great school for small business owners like myself ready to take things to the next level.

  • ktcwmom

    Erin Wallace from HowardKnitsandVintag said 5 years ago

    The more time I sell on etsy, the more impressed with it I become. What could simply be a platform for people to sell their wares has become politically and civicly active, helping to forge the path for entrepreneurship in an otherwise lagging economy. Were it not for this site I wouldn't have a way to work; through etsy I am contributing to my household income and my community's economy. Kudos to you for all that you do.

  • OceansideCastle

    Laura from OceansideCastle said 5 years ago Featured

    Bravo to you Etsy for paving new paths for artisans and entrepreneurs not only in America, but across the globe. The Industrial Revolution changed the world economy. Technology and outsourcing changed the job market. Change is inevitable; some good, some not so much. Small home based businesses build strong communities with stronger economic growth potential. Etsy is so much more than an online marketplace. Etsy represents the revival of entrepreneurship and renewal in appreciation of art. This is a change for the better. I'm proud to be part of it.

  • ld34760

    Lydia Diaz from WEBAnaturalproducts said 5 years ago

    How wonderful that you're thinking outside the box in this way! I'm reminded of a NY initiative (StartUp NY) that I was involved with that helped persons with disabilities to become entrepreneurs. Given the fact that my county has no real small business incubator, it would be great if we could create a partnership like this in New York! Bravo, and please keep us posted.

  • showbelles

    Rhonda Griffin from Showbelles said 5 years ago

    Thank you etsy.Thank you. Your plans goals and steps zero in right at the heart of the matter. You are reviving an economic movement toward self reliance, resourcefulness, and productivity. Entrepreneurship is a major part the American foundation.

  • nildagalarza

    Nilda Galarza from TheDRESSyCardGallery said 5 years ago

    Etsy really knows and understands the heart and the needs of the true Artists.

  • CoquettishlyAdorned

    Shannon DeBalli from CoquettishlyAdorned said 5 years ago

    I love this, what an amazing project. I wish you all the luck in the world and sit back to watch your success!!!

  • poorventrue

    Amy Chappell from BelovedVikingVinyl said 5 years ago

    I've only been with Etsy for just over a year. I have enjoyed learning through the Etsy Success, and Etsy Teams newsletters. I post in my small Etsy Team of the useful Blogs that my fellow artists can use and grow from. It gladdens my heart to hear how Etsy is working with crafters on a grass roots level. Congratulations Etsy!

  • ShauneilSupplies

    Tobey Tobey from ShauneilSupplies said 5 years ago

    My current day job is workforce development--getting dislocated workers back into the workforce through training. This article is very interesting and I'm glad to see things may be taking a new direction. Very excited to see where this goes and to learn more about this project.

  • FashGal

    Paula Gallemore from fashgal said 5 years ago

    ... revitalizing America. Just what is needed to inspire, empower and see the transformation on so many levels. Bravo!

  • dottieq

    DottieQ from DottieQ said 5 years ago

    I just read this article while wearing my "Making a Comeback, Rockford, IL" t-shirt from RockfordArtDeli.com ~ Go Rockford!

  • handloomin

    Manju G from JaipurHandloom said 5 years ago

    Excellent post and inspiring

  • ThePaperButton

    Kari McDonald from ThePaperButton said 5 years ago

    So excited to be a part of this movement. A lot of work is ahead of us, but it is well worth it!

  • LoveRiSING

    Love Rising from LoveRiSING said 5 years ago

    This is so amazing! Cheers to everyone involved in such an inspiring collaboration!

  • TanaAnns

    Tana Stephens from TanaAnns said 5 years ago

    Love this! Thank you Dana!

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