Creator Sq. Deal: ‘Maker’ challenge in Johnstown follows profitable Pittsburgh mannequin | traits

Textiles, furniture, home furnishings and other handicraft businesses could one day populate Johnstown’s empty shop windows.

This is the vision of Pittsburgh architect Paul Rosenblatt who will open Creator Square, a business incubator in the heart of Johnstown.

Having previously done some architectural work in Johnstown, Rosenblatt decided that the town would be an ideal place for skilled artisans to develop into full-fledged, low-volume manufacturers.

“We want to show people that some of the things they could do are economically viable,” he said.

The Creator Square concept has been discussed since 2015 and is consistently linked to the property at 134 Gazebo Park in downtown Johnstown. Rosenblatt will be based there.

The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the project’s scheduled opening in the spring of 2020, but Rosenblatt said Creator Square will begin this month with the arrival of its first based manufacturer.

“Maker” is an umbrella term for independent inventors and artisans who make practical goods. Rosenblatt, founder of Creator Square, is himself a manufacturer who specializes in furniture, graphics and textiles.

Rosenblatt’s architecture, planning and design studio, Springboard Design, is one of 177 western Pennsylvania manufacturing companies backed by Bridgeway Capital’s Creative Business Accelerator, a social impact investor similar to JARI in Johnstown.

The organization supports decision makers with access to capital, potential customers, business advice and space.

Bridgeway Capital’s Creative Business Accelerator Adam Kenney says there are many old mill towns, but not all of them have the resources that Johnstown does.

“Johnstown has all the elements necessary to nurture a maker ecosystem that supports the region’s economic future,” said Kenney.

“Creator Square can become the center of this ecosystem that includes cultural assets like the Center for Metal Arts, as well as support for small businesses like JARI and the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies.”

Kenney said Bridgeway also intends to find a role in helping Creator Square.

Four to eight makers can occupy Creator Square at the same time. There they would have access to studio space and a variety of devices to manufacture their goods and sharpen their business knowledge.

Rosenblatt hopes that after a stay of up to two years, the company will stay in Johnstown and activate empty shop windows.

“In their blood”

For Rosenblatt, Creator Square is not a revolutionary idea for Johnstown. The region’s penchant for manufacturing – from railroad cars in the heyday of the steel industry in the region to high-tech military equipment for today’s defense sector – is well established.

Creator Square wants to continue the tradition of making, but on a smaller scale and with more control in the hands of the makers, he said.

“It gives people power who have entrepreneurial skills or have a tradition of making things a sense of ownership,” he said.

“You are in control of your own life. I think people lost a lot when those factory jobs disappeared not only from Johnstown but from cities across the country.”

According to a 2018 study commissioned by Bridgeway’s Creative Business Accelerator, the 177 manufacturing companies in their network had a gross economic or total “ripple effect” of $ 21.9 million on the Pittsburgh region that year. They have also created or supported nearly 500 jobs.

It’s not the impact of a massive company, Kenney said, but it’s a targeted impact that’s just as important.

“Johnstown still has bigger manufacturers creating jobs,” he said.

“The manufacturing industry is characterized by small batches. These craft manufacturers are also vital to the economic revitalization as large manufacturers won’t activate shop fronts. But small series manufacturers will be. We saw it all over Pittsburgh. ”

“Marketing Question”

Thanks to new technologies, manufacturers can automate their production for small batch production. Thanks to social media, they were able to reach customers worldwide.

With tools like 3D printers, computerized lathes, and Computer Numerical Control (CNC) printers and routers, manufacturing has been revolutionized in the past 15 years, Rosenblatt said.

This equipment will be available to artisans in Creator Square and at the Greater Johnstown Career and Technology Center, which is partnered with the downtown project.

“Because of this technology, which is powered by computer programs that people can use for themselves, people today can no longer rely on someone else to create jobs or move a factory to a specific location like Johnstown,” said Rosenblatt.

In Allegheny County, woodworker Ben Saks founded Kerf in 2013.

“He made things by hand and realized that he could increase the scale of his production if he could automate the production of wooden smartphone cases using CNC routers and other 3D printers,” said Rosenblatt.

Saks makes familiar accessories from unconventional materials – mobile phone cases made of wood from locally salvaged trees.

Saks has four employees and sells products 100% online.

“Creative people want to go to inexpensive places where they don’t have to rely on a job – they bring their jobs with them,” Saks said. “And possibly do some jobs.”

He said he believed this was possible in Johnstown.

“It’s a marketing question, if anything,” he said. “It’s about the image of the city and how people perceive it.”

“Post-Pandemic World”

A group of executives from Johnstown are working on it.

Choose Johnstown! The campaign promotes Johnstown for its outdoor appeal and affordability.

This campaign resulted from lifestyle trends accelerated by the pandemic – the ability to work from home and live away from densely populated and expensive cities.

With the rise of remote working, Saks envisions opportunities for creative entrepreneurs who may previously have been tied to a city where their significant other is employed.

“A couple now potentially can move to Johnstown to start a creative business while the company’s partner works remotely for PPG or wherever,” said Saks.

Saks emphasized that a place like Creator Square is important for budding entrepreneurs.

“You can only work that long in your basement,” he said.

The companies that could emerge from Creator Square if they looked like other small businesses like Kerf would be able to withstand retail problems in the pandemic.

“If you are able to have a safe place to manufacture and ship anywhere in the world, you are ready for the post-pandemic world,” said Saks. “This is one of the reasons we’re still in business.

“We have a website that is optimized for web search. Someone in Seattle can search for ‘wooden phone case’ and we come up. “

“Economic Signal”

Moop Shop is another example from Pittsburgh. The company specializes in canvas and waxed canvas bags – designed and manufactured from start to finish in a studio in Pittsburgh.

In 2014, The Atlantic made a name for the Moop Shop, which was founded by designer Wendy Down.

“She has several full-time employees who work with her in a modest manufacturing business where they run a small but nimble business together, making and selling hundreds of bags a month,” the Atlantic story says.

Today the Moop Shop Instagram account has more than 10,000 followers. Many posts feature the brick and mortar store in Pittsburgh, but via Instagram and other social media platforms, companies like Moop have a broader customer base than their locale.

“She makes most of her sales online,” said Rosenblatt. “She’s doing it super well. She sells her stuff and some other incredibly beautiful products from the store, but there is no barrier between her store and her production space. You can see people making the things you buy. “

Moop, Kerf, Springboard Design and dozens of other manufacturers can be found in the PG&H online directory.

coordinated by Kenney at Bridgeway Capital’s Creative Business Accelerator.

Kenney said Creator Square may one day have a similar online directory of manufacturing companies that it launched in Johnstown.

“What Johnstown might expect is to be determined,” said Kenney. “But Johnstown presents itself as a place that makers want to go or where makers who are already in Johnstown can grow.

“Creator Square sends a national economic signal that this is a place for doers.”

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