In Brooklyn, even the factories are artisanal
Manufacturing is back in Brooklyn! But only in a Renaissance Florence sort of way, where skilled artisans produce craft-objects for wealthy patrons with finicky desires.
The New York Times reports that there are, against all odds, still factories in Brooklyn, although they’ve morphed from behemoth plants stamping out assembly-line goods to smaller shops:
This building, at 1205 Manhattan Avenue, has been sliced and diced into several dozen small factories, each with a niche clientele. One forges exhibits out of wood and metal for the city’s museums. Another makes props and models for advertisers of products like Absolut Vodka to use in their magazine photo spreads. A third restores stained-glass masterpieces for museums like the Cloisters.
This, my friends, is “the future of urban manufacturing,” according to Brian T. Coleman, a man who we imagine has quite a bit of money sunk into that belief, given that his nonprofit has bought four buildings to convert into “lofts for small factories.” I know you’re thinking right now that these factory lofts must be in Williamsburg, but in fact they are in Greenpoint, because Williamsburg is no longer as hip as it once was and is full of condos.
To be honest, I’m not even sure it’s fair to call these shops “factories,” given what they make:
Swell’s clients are in Midtown and often have tight deadlines that could not be met by a similar operation in, say, Iowa or China. “Most of the jobs I deliver myself,” said Mr. Aoki, 43, as he sat in his office with a view of the Manhattan skyline. “I cannot trust messengers. If there is a delay, they would have to wait for our model to take a picture.”
Also, as the Times points out, it’s not like Brooklyn is gaining manufacturing jobs from this. It’s just not losing them quite as fast: between 2009 and 2011, about 1 out of 20 manufacturing jobs disappeared, while between 2000 and 2003, it was a whopping 1 out of 4. Plus, it sounds like a lot of these new jobs require MFAs or some other advanced degree, so we’re not exactly talking work for the masses here.
In other words, it’s cool that people in hip urban areas are making things other than beautifully iced cupcakes and hand-stitched pillows, but it’s probably isn’t going to save any industries or win any elections. But if you DO win an election and need a stained glass window to commemorate your job-creation prowess, Brooklyn is the place to be.
Instead of Industrial Giants, Brooklyn Has Niche Factories,
New York Times