Can This Project Help Portland Makers Survive?
You know about Portland’s real estate crunch—rampant home bidding competitions, escalating rents. But there’s another side, too. What about places to make stuff?
Kelley Roy, founder of the acclaimed communal workshop ADX, sees that space crisis in sharp relief. Throughout the city’s older, centrally located industrial districts, developers snap up factories, warehouses, and workshops to convert them to offices. Now, Roy—who also founded Portland Made, a consortium of small-scale producers—is battling back. Her latest project, the Industrial Grange, aims to persuade landlords to preserve light industrial space at rents affordable to hands-on creators.
“This is our attempt to work with willing property owners that want to keep their buildings in industrial uses, close-in,” says Roy. “It’s trying to keep makers from being displaced from the central city.” The Grange’s first building, in Southwest’s Lair Hill, is already home to several businesses—among them the Portland Razor Company, which requires about three or four hours of hands-on labor to hone one of its artisanal shaving blades.
The Grange is currently working with a broker to open space in the east-side Iron Fireman Collective building, a 150,000-square-foot former factory that could rent space for between $1.30 and $1.40 per square foot. (Retrofitted offices can rent for $24 per square foot.) “Some tenants we have talked to don’t want to move to the suburbs,” says Christopher Ebersole, senior vice president of ScanlanKemperBard, the private real estate financing firm involved in the building. “Portland manufacturing has taken off in the last 10 years or so. We are hoping to make a destination for that.”
In a political era newly fixated on domestic industry (not to name any names), it’s fair to ask: do the small businesses the Industrial Grange wants to help make any difference? Collectively, Roy says her partner organizations wield a dramatic effect on the local economy.
“We did a survey with Portland State University,” she says. “The first year, 126 makers created 1,024 jobs and $258 million in revenues. It’s not one big employer. It’s lots of smaller employers.”