May 8, 2018
Just recently, a Made In Charlottesville Members Meet Up was held for the first time. This meet up was a gathering of local business owners who all make, produce or manufacture products within the 10.4 square miles of Charlottesville. While this was not our first Made In Charlottesville event, it was the first event solely for businesses owners, and in our opinion, the event was a fine success. Held on the Cardboard Safari manufacturing floor, there was a great energy in the room as many business owners met for the first time and the conversations focused on supporting other businesses and lots of discussions about partnering or collaborating on future projects.
Our Made In Charlottesville initiative began just over a year ago and this has caused us to reflect back over the short life of the program. Originally, Made In Charlottesville was intended to celebrate and increase awareness for the many different small businesses that make products within the City. Supporting these types of businesses is vital to the City’s business ecosystem. As the City reaches a new all-time high of nearly 40,000 employees within Charlottesville, the vast majority of these jobs are with small businesses, employing less than 20 employees. According the Small Business Administration’s most recent data, firms employing less than 20 employees experienced the largest gains in Virginia outpacing all other business sizes by adding 24,812 net new jobs. These statistics reinforce the importance of supporting entrepreneurship to enhance workforce opportunities.
Made In Charlottesville was planned as a small scale project where we thought we’d create a branding logo, use social media actively to promote City businesses and help create a unique selling point for locally made items. While that is certainly still part of our program, going into our second year, we have much larger aspirations based on all the things we’ve learned.
Soon after we publicly launched, we received some great local media attention. As a result, we were contacted by the Urban Manufacturing Alliance (UMA), a North American association focused on keeping jobs within urban centers. After our conversation, UMA invited us to speak at their national conference, focused on local branding campaigns. As we shared the stage with other local branding initiatives, it struck me that Made In Charlottesville was unique for several reasons. The first is just our City’s size. Representatives were there from San Francisco, New York, Seattle, Portland, and Baltimore – all who have populations several multiples larger than Charlottesville. The second reason is that our program is only one of a few local branding campaigns in the country to be run by a local government. The majority of these campaigns are either independent non-profits or supported by business associations. Each of these groups has dedicated staff to promote, advertise, and offer programming for the businesses.
Another unique aspect of Made In Charlottesville is the composition of this group. There are no membership dues– the commonality of all these businesses is that they all make something within the City. Their common interest is stronger motivation than any annual fee, and we’ve had great success partnering and finding support from all the businesses involved.
While we think Made In Charlottesville is cool, it turns out so do others. Our original intent was to create an independent brand where it would focus on the businesses, not the City of Charlottesville or the Office of Economic Development. However, since the term Charlottesville is a bit ubiquitous, we’ve had interest from businesses all over the region. People are “bummed” when they register to become a Made In Charlottesville business but find out the business needs to be located in the City. Now, we’ve clarified our language and emphasized Made In Charlottesville is an OED program so people do not have to question why Made In Charlottesville is only for City-based businesses.
The final aspect is the value of our brand. We have been surprised by the amount of interest Made In Charlottesville has received from organizations and people wanting to partner with Made In Charlottesville. Our members are a unique collection of business owners and entrepreneurs gathered in one place and people notice that value. The brand itself has value for an area that truly supports shopping local and a few times there have been attempts to mirror or stretch the meaning of the term Made In Charlottesville – both things we interpreted as complements, in the end.
As we move into our second year, we have lots of ideas and energy to grow Made In Charlottesville, all the while remaining focused on supporting and showcasing these important City businesses. Please take a moment to visit us at www.madeincharlottesville.org and support these businesses!
– Jason Ness, Business Development Manager
- The Charlottesville Community Job Fair is Wednesday, May 9th from 10am to 3pm at John Paul Jones Arena. This is the 10th anniversary of the region’s largest Job Fair and 100+ employers are registered to attend from all industries. For more information, visit charlottesville.org/jobfair.
- OED launches GO Connect! GO Connect is networking reimagined with actionable opportunities for businesses, professionals, and those who aspire to be anywhere in-between. Join us on Wednesday, May 23rd from 5:30pm to 7:00pm at The Common House (206 W. Market Street). We’ll engage in a design thinking activity that is sure to make you reconsider the way you’ve been networking all these years! The event is free but pre-registration is required due to limited space. For more information and to pre-register, visit goconnectcville.org.