Burlington’s Generator Maker Space: A viable use for Vermont downtowns

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The 5,000 square foot Generator maker space located in the lower level of historic Memorial Auditorium will turn one year old in March.  The not-for-profit Generator provides a creative environment, as well as access to a half-million dollars’ worth of tools and machinery, for engineers, artists and entrepreneurs to work collaboratively to innovate and create new business opportunities.   In addition to fostering economic development opportunities through the support and nurturing of start-up businesses, Generator maker space represents an exciting use for an otherwise underutilized historic structure in downtown Burlington.

After one year of operation, Generator has 100 members and is home to several start-up businesses including AirShark drones, a bar stool manufacturer, a game designer, IMG_0003and makers of edible fragrances, jewelry and leather theatrical masks.  Generator has teamed with local businesses and institutions to make this space a reality through a combination of hard work, financial contribution and donation of state-of-the-art machinery including 3D printers, laser cutters, welding and fabrication equipment, a metal shop, computers, software, and much more.  A new wood shop is currently under construction.

Generator also provides access to educational opportunities including business advice.  An official of the Vermont Economic Development Office visits Generator once a week to meet with budding entrepreneurs and provide guidance on writing business plans, where to seek potential funding sources, and identifying the best trade shows to attend.  One member who has taken advantage of this business counselling service is the owner of the edible fragrances company mentioned above, Alice and the Magician.  Alice and the Magician currently sells its product to high end bars throughout Vermont and in New York City, and is hoping to expand across the United States.  Other educational opportunities available to help members and the public to acquire and advance technical skills include classes in areas such as welding, microelectronics, jewelry-making, rapid prototyping and 3D design.

IMG_0007As an urban planning and commercial development professional, I am particularly interested in the economic development opportunities that maker spaces, such as Generator, offer to our existing downtowns.  Maker spaces represent an exciting and viable use for our downtown centers, and as such, should be encouraged and supported throughout Vermont.  They tend to locate in areas that are central and easily accessible by community residents.  They generate activity and promote creativity, and thereby can contribute to the vitality of a downtown center or neighborhood.  Furthermore, maker spaces help foster economic development by supporting inventors, entrepreneurs and start-up businesses.  Who knows, maybe the next Burton Snowboards, Vermont Teddy Bear or Dealer.com is getting started right now in a little 6 x 8 foot cubicle studio space at the Generator maker space.