Why Not Local? #onthetable



On May 10th DesignHouse collaborated with the Chicago Community Trust’s #onthetable event- a city wide day of conversations around various topics that affect our communities. Our event was called Why Not Local and we set out to discuss where there are opportunities and challenges to produce products locally.

We had a talented group amongst us including, Mike Holzer of North Branch Works, Joe Parisi, founder of GuardLlama, Haven Allen of World Business Chicago, Zach Kaplan founder of Inventables, Bill Fienup of Catalyze Chicago, Andy Rojecki, professor at UIC, Heidi Sheppard of NEA, Lorri Cornett an entrepreneur and the DesignHouse team.

We covered a lot of ground around the plusses and minuses of local manufacturing. Companies like ProtoMold are making it easier to connect designers with prototypes but their pricing doesn’t make sense for production. Production overseas was more affordable but lacked the opportunity for oversight and financing cash flow, which is a big risk. Many of the success stories came from combinations of local and overseas manufacturing or assembly- someone even told of a story where a local manufacturer was getting tooling made in China then brought it onshore to mold!

Much of the challenge to finding a local manufacturer centered around the culture gap- the entrepreneurs of the group were used to getting to solutions quickly and digitally, but found manufacturers didn’t always speak the same language. This also came through in the skills gap- many young people don’t want to get into manufacturing careers leaving it hard for manufacturers to replace their aging Baby Boomer workforce. A more youthful workforce could help bridge these manufacturers into the future to better connect to new product designers and create digital innovations- more competitive.

What does the future hold for local manufacturing? Based on this conversation, it seems like the best success stories are a blend. Unique combinations of local and offshore are happening, combining that with the latest technology means that everyone is going to have to keep up.

Where do you see local manufacturing headed?