The Lacey MakerSpace Pushes Forward Through the Continued Support of the Thurston Economic Development Council and Partners City of Lacey and Saint Martin’s University

Thurston County has a wonderful community of makers and artists that bring a unique perspective to life and connection. The Thurston Economic Development Council (EDC) partnered with the City of Lacey and Saint Martin’s University to bring to life a space dedicated for these innovative and creative community members. The Lacey MakerSpace opened officially in October of 2019 and has already made a huge impact on our local economy. The MakerSpace welcomes a new director, Michelle Pope, who seeks to keep the momentum of the space going.

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The Lacey MakerSpace’s goal is to support makers in their craft and entrepreneurs in bringing new products to market. This 4,000-square-foot space was donated by Saint Martin’s University and houses top-notch industry equipment. Photo credit: Michelle Pope

The MakerSpace is a 4,000-square-foot space with a variety of industry equipment for makers and artists to utilize. The space is open to the public with two goals in mind. “It is a place for hobbyists to make things and learn something new,” says Rick Walk, director of community and economic development for the City of Lacey. “But it is also for entrepreneurs who have ideas and want to make prototypes of things to bring to market.” The MakerSpace offers the perfect space, equipment, and community support for makers of all backgrounds to be successful.

The MakerSpace is the result of a collaborative effort and desire to provide a dedicated space for makers and artists. About 7 years ago, representatives from the City of Lacey, South Puget Sound Community College (SPSCC), Saint Martin’s University, Heritage Bank, Thurston Chamber of Commerce and the Thurston EDC went to Indian River State College in Florida. “It is a similar sized community that had developed an economic model that was thriving,” shares Joseph Anderson, the past director of the MakerSpace. The representatives learned a great deal about developing successful partnerships between business and organization while in this Floridian community.

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Michelle started as the new director June 2021. She comes to the MakerSpace after serving as the Visual Arts Operations Manager at the Evergreen State College for 11 years. She is also a glassblower, welder, woodworker, and gardener. Photo courtesy: Michelle Pope

One thing they noticed, however, was the lack of physical product development. “It was a challenge for people to find a way to bring a product to market,” Joseph says. “The MakerSpace is an ideal opportunity to provide that service to local innovators to help them build their businesses.”  Additionally, they had started to observe maker spaces in our local schools and recognized there was a gap in hands-on opportunities beyond the middle and high school level. This begged the question of how we could get people the hands-on skills they would need to be effective in high-demand jobs,

“The MakerSpace was born out of these two ideals,” Joseph says. The three partners worked together with dedicated community members like Graeme Sackrison to bring this idea to life. Saint Martin’s University donated the space for the makers and artists to use while the City of Lacey provided the financial support. “The Thurston EDC folded the MakerSpace under their 501(c)3 nonprofit umbrella and provided a lot of administrative assistance,” Joseph shares. Through these partnerships, the MakerSpace experienced a wonderful grand opening and a successful first 6 months.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 struck shortly after opening, which threatened the survival of the space. Luckily, through the continued funding from the City of Lacey and the commitment of volunteers, the space continued to serve the community. “We barely had a chance to get off the ground,” says Sean Moore, manager of the Center for Business and Innovation. “When the pandemic hit, we saw a need and started making PPE for the community.” 50 volunteers continued working in the space and after a few short months they had produced over 1,400 masks and face shields for our hospitals and frontline. It was through the continued dedication and support of the community that the MakerSpace was able to make such an impact.

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The MakerSpace powered through the pandemic by producing PPE for our local hospitals and frontline workers. Our local frontline workers were grateful for efforts like this in such a dire time. Photo credit: Stacey Waterman-Hoey

In addition to the pandemic support, the MakerSpace served as the perfect host for local industry trainings. Since hands-on training for potential employment is one of the core focuses of the space, they were more than happy to host a construction bootcamp. “It was an apprenticeship program put on by a partnership with Anew and the Thurston Chamber Workforce through PAC Mountain Workforce,” says Rick. “We know there is a need for additional workforce in the construction industry, and we can help grow that workforce so it is local instead of imported.” The training provided a basic understanding of on-site construction work and laid the foundation for a new person seeking to make a career shift into construction.

These types of trainings are something that the MakerSpace would like to continue to host as well as develop themselves. The best part about the equipment and classes available at the MakerSpace is that it is all open to the public. If you want to learn how to use specialized industry equipment or gain new skills in an artistic medium, you can enroll in one of the courses taught by industry professionals. Teachers either volunteer or significantly reduce their fee to keep classes affordable so they can share their knowledge and wisdom with the next group of makers.

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Welding instructor Daniel Scheper from Elite Welding and Design volunteers his time to help teach people like Emily Crawford how to use industry equipment. Photo credit: Michelle Pope

Michelle Pope is eager to support these endeavors and further connect the community to support training efforts. “I really want to develop more business training opportunities and partner with Evergreen, SPSCC, and high schools,” she says. As a maker herself, Michelle sees the value in investing in our local artists and inventors to grow our local economy. She is so excited for the opportunity to support this population through the MakerSpace. “It is already such an amazing, welcoming, and collaborative environment,” she says.

With such a strong foundation of partnership and community support, the Lacey MakerSpace is poised for success. With Michelle’s exceptional passion and the dedicated volunteer base, the MakerSpace is looking forward to supporting our local makers in their next projects. For more information, visit the Lacey MakerSpace website.

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