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Committee for Geelong's Weekly Addy Opinion Piece - Maker Movement

Australia has always been a nation of people who make things, from the craftswomen of the CWA to the backyard tinkerers and hobbyists - but moving from a hobby to manufacturing was not very easy in the past.

That has changed with the growth of the "Maker" movement, which has provided one way to move from hobbyist to entrepreneur, unlocking the potential of many inventions to provide employment, improve skills and boost local economic growth.

Until recently, technical entrepreneurs have attracted more public support than hobbyists who have been left to develop inventions largely on their own.

There are however two drivers changing this perspective - "Makerspaces" and innovative government policy. "Makerspaces" are community operated DIY workspaces where anyone can have access to a range of tools and equipment, hardware and software. They are places where people can collaborate on creative projects, share knowledge and tools, learn and teach.

As recently reported in theAdvertiser, an idea by Kathy Reid for Geelong to develop a "Makerspace" won the My Geelong, My Idea competition. We congratulate Kathy on her achievement.

The involvement of local government and universities has been an essential part of the growth of the Maker Movement, particularly in the USA. They have become leaders in providing financial support in grants or spaces to set up, and have encouraged collaborative public-private partnerships and links to local manufacturing industries.

In Eugene, Oregon the city sold an unused building in 2014 for $1, which will be renovated and converted into a co-working space, an incubator and a fabrication workshop.

There are also other opportunities for local government to encourage economic growth in the start-up sector by way of low-interest loans or rent-ceiling guarantees for maker start-ups, or by amending planning schemes to reduce red-tape.

In Boulder, Colorado, "Tinkermill" describes itself as "the largest makerspace/hackerspace in Colorado and the surrounding Rocky Mountain region." Founded in 2013, with businesses and individuals donating or lending machines and equipment, it is now a non-profit public charity with over 350 paying members and over 1500 online "Meetup" members.

Its focus is on encouraging new products and business creation through mentoring and the provision of onsite office and working spaces and equipment, storage for projects and informal meeting areas.

The recent addition of an advanced prototype manufacturing facility will enable the co-location of manufacturing, engineering and design.  The monthly membership fees are modest - US$50 for an individual, $25 for a student and $100 for an organisation, which can then give five of its employees the opportunity to participate.

This is a project which creates businesses and jobs.  "This is where ideas become reality," said Clint Bickmore, the chief technology officer of Change Composites - which used the facility to develop a new bike helmet to better protect riders from the double impact of a crash. "This is where dreams come true."

As Geelong transforms, and the technological barriers to making things are falling, it is very timely to be developing the concept of a "Makerspace" in our city.


Rebecca Casson is the Committee for Geelong Chief Executive Officer. Follow the Committee for Geelong on Twitter @Comm4Geelong



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