Made in Fairfax
Fairfax County Seeks to Boost Local Artisan Manufacturing
To expand economic activity and build vibrant community centers, Fairfax County is exploring the potential of small scale production businesses to enhance the County’s commercial areas.
Technological changes and consumer market preferences for locally-made and artisan products – from textiles, hardware, woodworking, and metalworking to breweries and local food production – have enabled small producers to competitively operate in traditionally non-industrial areas, such as retail and commercial centers.
The Made in Fairfax Initiative will be studying the most appropriate locations for this kind of small-scale production. Based on findings and public input, the County anticipates that it might update its land use and zoning rules to accommodate these kinds of artisan businesses.
With brick and mortar retailers under siege by online powerhouse giants, expansion of traditional retail is slowing dramatically along with the tax revenue they produce. The county is turning towards artisan manufacturing as a way to fill vacant commercial space no longer desired by traditional retail, while enlivening older commercial areas with new activities, local enterprise, and tax revenue.
Other localities, such as the cities of Falls Church and Alexandria, have implemented plans long ago and are already attracting numerous small brewers, whiskey makers, and artisan craftsmen in any number of disciplines.
Throughout the US, changes in technology and consumer tastes have made it possible for smaller-scale manufacturing to make a come back in urban areas. With the 3-D printer and computer controlled machine tools, factory space is dramatically shrinking while providing far more environmentally friendly manufacturing facilities.
Doug Loescher, a program manager for Fairfax County, commented that, “We’re looking at those types of businesses that are cleaner, quieter and more community friendly, and therefore would be good neighbors in mixed use areas. We recognize the potential for small-scale production businesses to enhance the character and identity of commercial centers and to create a more vibrant atmosphere with more choices for shoppers.”
County leaders claim to see artisan manufacturing as a way to grow and diversify the economy. While many equate manufacturing with large factories, 42 percent of manufacturers employ four people or less, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In general, small businesses are responsible for two out of three new jobs created. The greatest challenge for a renewal in urban small scale manufacturing is the cost of real estate and the cost to refit interiors of leased space.
Unknown to many potential business owners and the public in general is that property owners in retail centers do not provide the interior buildout, interior insurance, utilities, or signage. Start up costs are high, even if square footage is small. Some small scale manufacturers generate high sales revenue allowing for start-up and operating costs. Others never will. Property owners often find leaving a space empty is financially more responsible than leasing at rock bottom prices. Certain uses create too high an insurance cost for the building owners who insure certain aspects of the property and building exterior. Shopping Centers are also concerned with providing a cross shopping experience for their existing tenants. Some uses would not benefit the center as a whole.
In Fairfax County, there are approximately 125 small-scale producers, ranging from 3D printing to precision parts to organic juice making. It is also worthy of note that consumer surveys indicate that customers are fed up with many mass manufactured products carried in store after store after store. They are instead excited with a variety of original offerings that can only be achieved by small scale manufacturers.
A final report with recommendations for the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is due to be published in the near future.
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