The Changing Face of Manufacturing

Much of the economic development discussion lately has revolved around large-scale manufacturing and how we can attract the few remaining American manufacturers to our region. In the process, we tend to dismiss home-grown manufacturing as small bore operations, better suited to the DIY hipsters on Etsy. Makers and artists though are not just a quaint homage an earlier era in manufacturing, they can be a way forward for small cities like ours.

We already have a growing collection of micro-breweries here in Columbia (including Logboat, Burr Oak, and Rock Bridge) but we’re unaccustomed to micro-distilleries. I toured Few Spirits in Evanston, Illinois a couple of years ago and saw first hand how a successful small manufacturing operation can add to the economic life of a city, so I was excited when our own micro-distillery opened up in the North Village Arts District. I stopped by Dogmaster Distillery one night for cocktails and found myself talking with Van Hawxby—the owner, master distiller, and chief bartender—about his work. Oh, he also has a day job in insurance so it’s clearly a labor of love at this point. He has a good product though and in a few years, if all goes well, I can certainly see an opportunity for expansion. Larger space, more employees, new products—all the very things the city wants to encourage.


We talked about grains and yeast for a while until it was time to mix the yeast into the sweet corn water. I managed to do it without a spill and couldn’t help but wonder if this part of the process would change as Van’s operation grew.

While I was there, I also ran into a former intern of mine at the Downtown CID. She had been there during our rebranding process and the removal of the 40-year-old concrete canopies along Broadway—an exciting time but as with any time of change, a somewhat stressful one.  Nonetheless, I was pleased to hear that she felt it was the best internship she had during college. I was even more pleased to learn she had just accepted a job with another local company, 1canoe2, creating handcrafted letterpress stationary and greeting cards. 1canoe2 is a small shop but their products are available in over 800 locations, including overseas, so it’s no surprise they are hiring.

We have any number of quiet success stories like this—Patric Chocolate is another home grown industry making its way in this new era. Still, here in Columbia we tend to think of them as products, rather than economic engines. We send mom chocolate and a hand-crafted card on her birthday and we choose local brews when we’re with friends. But buying local is just the first step. The next step is finding ways to encourage and sustain these small manufacturing operations because this is the new wave of economic development.