Made in NYC Looks to Give Manufacturing a Handcrafted Image

By Martha C. White in The New York Times, 04/24/2016:

The image of the American factory floor is as classic as Henry Ford’s Model T assembly line and just as enduring in the popular imagination. For decades, manufacturing jobs have been the ladder to the middle class for Americans of modest means and education.

So when Made in NYC, a group that promotes local manufacturing, began an advertising campaign this spring, its goal was more than just to draw attention to items produced in the city. Supporters of that group and others like it around the country are trying to redefine what American manufacturing means in the 21st century. They hope to capitalize on a newfound embrace of artisanal and handcrafted goods and urge consumers accustomed to big-box globalization to think of their shopping habits in the context of local economic investment.

“Urban manufacturing creates opportunity,” said Adam Friedman, director of the Pratt Center for Community Development, which developed Made in NYC. “We’re coming out of a recession, which really drove home the point that you need a strong manufacturing base to create jobs.”

When Made in NYC was conceived in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, “this was a strategy to both encourage consumers to shop more locally and to get companies to buy from each other to strengthen local supply chains,” Mr. Friedman said.

Growth was initially slow, until four or five years ago. “Something dramatic changed,” he said. “I think there was really a shift in consumer preferences. It coincided with the whole locavore movement.”

Seizing on this trend, and with $750,000 from the New York City Council, Made in NYC introduced its recent campaign with “Dreams, Jobs and ____,” and, “Made Here in NYC.”

“We’re helping businesses learn how to market themselves a little more, but also doing a public branding campaign,” said Melissa Mark-Viverito, the City Council speaker. “We’re raising that level of consciousness and awareness.”

This quest to revitalize urban manufacturing is not limited to New York City.

Founded in 2011, the Urban Manufacturing Alliance is a grass-roots effort to help small manufacturers. Led by the Pratt Center and an alliance of manufacturers in San Francisco called SFMade, it has members in 115 cities, including Cincinnati, Detroit and Seattle. This year it formed a committee to focus on local marketing strategies, said Lee Wellington, the group’s founding executive director.

“Within the economic development movement, there isn’t always a recognition that branding is a viable strategy,” Ms. Wellington said. Urban manufacturers are realizing that, along with issues like zoning regulations and land use rules, marketing plays a role in advocacy — retaining industrial zoning in gentrifying neighborhoods, for instance — as well as increasing sales.

“That’s an important element to this whole movement,” Ms. Wellington said. “It creates a stronger relationship between the consumer market in these cities and the maker movement.”

Ms. Wellington predicted that the New York City campaign would attract attention from other members.

“We’re seeing a lot of interest in how this can be replicated,” she said.

Since modern urban factories are more high-tech and nimble than their predecessors, manufacturers today can create a wide array of products in smaller spaces, and Made in NYC wanted to communicate that in its campaign.

“Our main objective was to highlight the diversity of things that are made here,” said T. J. McCormick, partner and executive creative director at Eyeball, a strategic design and branding firm that is working with Made in NYC.

Antonio Reynoso, a city councilman whose district includes the North Brooklyn Industrial Business Zone, has supported the Council’s involvement in the campaign. “About 40 percent of my district that I represent is manufacturing,” he said. “We have chair makers. We have belt makers. We have food distributors and packagers.”

The challenge was portraying that diversity in a cohesive way. In the new ads, the blank representing the final word of “Dreams, Jobs and ____” is variously filled in with examples as diverse as guitars and gourmet food.

Similarly, there was a deliberate choice to use the word “made” in the ads instead of “manufactured.”

“There are a lot of associations with it — that it’s just old-school tooling and heavy machinery and stuff, which is why we ultimately landed on the word ‘made,’” Mr. McCormick said. “It softens it a little bit, makes it feel more broad.”

The campaign includes a social element, which uses geography to focus ads and incorporates a quiz about locally made products, said Noreen O’Loughlin, Made in NYC’s program director. The group is also investing in targeted digital advertising, created by Eyeball, to increase its reach, especially among young adults.

To reach New Yorkers while they are commuting or running errands, the campaign uses billboards and advertisements on kiosks and subways in places like Manhattan’s garment district and the Lower East Side, along the Long Island Expressway and in neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens. “We felt we needed to be on the street and in front of people,” Mr. McCormick said.

“Educating that consumer base is, I think, what the Made in NYC campaign is all about, and so much of what we’re trying to do with our entire member base across the country,” Ms. Wellington said. “It’s communicating the value of manufacturing.”

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