In August 2016, the City of Sacramento made the pledge to become a Fab City. Joining 14 cities around the world — including Barcelona, Paris and Shenzhen — Sacramento’s 50-year commitment makes it the first city on the Pacific West Coast to honor the MIT-spearheaded proposal, the Fab City Initiative. For the last three years, I’ve followed the initiative. With the sponsorship of Sierra College, I was able to attend the Annual Fab City Conference, hosted in Shenzhen, China, to meet the program leaders and make a commitment on behalf of Sacramento.
A Fab City is defined in the initiative as a “new urban model for locally productive and globally connected, self-sufficient cities.” At its core, the Fab City pledge is a commitment made by cities to become at least 50 percent self-sufficient by 2054, which means creating micro-economies that are sustainable at a local level, resilient to economic challenges and globally interwoven.
This pledge is about an economy producing what it’s consuming — from energy to food, and from industrial supplies to consumer goods. It forces a city and its people to look inward and analyze where commodities and products come from, and ask themselves, “Can we produce this here?” By empowering ourselves to take control of our future, we will directly improve the resiliency of Sacramento’s economy. We will set ourselves up to be a self-sufficient, value-producing engine that takes responsibility for creating our own jobs, products, food, energy, furniture, clothing and other basic human goods.
The first step for Sacramento is to map its existing innovation and production ecosystem. Understanding our current manufacturing infrastructure, networks of knowledge, raw material sources, existing initiatives and stakeholder organizations is the key to evolving our current economy. As a region, we’ve made significant strides and progress toward this objective, such as with the farm-to-fork movement, Rocklin Mini Maker Faire and Valley Vision’s mapping of our advanced manufacturing sector.
Our region is home to over 300 manufacturing establishments, appointing over 16,000 jobs, according to Valley Vision. It’s time to reinvent the global supply chain paradigm. Currently, world economies are built around a “Product In, Trash Out” process. With digital fabrication technology such as 3D printing and CNC machining, economies are now transitioning away from the tangible product toward sharing intellectual property, within a “Data In, Data Out” system. Trendsetting companies supporting the DIDO system include: Open Desk, 3D Hubs and Thingiverse.
DIDO economies require local manufacturers to prioritize importing and exporting information over products. Exchanging a set of values around equitable growth in urban areas supports local manufacturing, thus creating liveable-wage jobs. The Urban Manufacturing Alliance, launched by SFMade, comprises nationwide leaders who support a vibrant manufacturing economy within urban cities. If our region is to replicate the SFMade model, we need to access our manufacturing supply-chain resources, and provide resources to assist entrepreneurs and businesses that are making physical products.
Our work at Hacker Lab puts us on the map as leaders in the Maker Movement, providing our community with access to advanced manufacturing equipment and technical training, alongside a community of inventors, entrepreneurs, engineers and educators. Beyond our makerspace, Hacker Lab is excited to work with innovative and dedicated partners — including Sierra College, VSP Global, Intel, SMUD, City of Sacramento, City of Rocklin, Society of Manufacturing Engineers, the California Community College system, and Sacramento’s co-working network and growing start-up community. The Sacramento region has a strong foundation to build from in becoming a Fab City.
To build a strong foundation that leaves flexibility for innovation, we must take ownership of our education. “Maker Education” is a term for the back-to-basics, student-driven exploration that allows us to develop critical thinking while learning technology and communication skills. With the advancements of the internet, YouTube and an $80 billion online education market, knowledge is ubiquitous.
The relationship between educator and student is shifting away from a top-down, obedience-designed interaction toward a nurtured, hands-on education in coding, electronics and fabrication. It’s time to get out of the way and let students invent for themselves. Current educators successfully using project-based learning on advanced subjects are: the Sac Maker Academy, Operation Innovate, Rocket Dept, PodPi and over 30 independent teachers within the Hacker Lab community. Let’s make our progressive education programs household names — we need to champion their success and growth.
Ultimately, this is about jobs. The Fab City Initiative, prosumerism, innovation spaces and Maker Education all aim to help us create jobs for ourselves. Whether we’re gaining new skills, creating for our existing workplace or starting our own businesses, we are creating value and adding capital to the economy.
This isn’t the venture capital model — the idolized Bay Area approach — to company building where we’re only focused on big bet, 10x returns that serve only a small fraction of investors. This is about creating small businesses, independent freelancers and contractors that build and take control of their own jobs. Building from small, scaleable enterprises creates a resiliency that makes our economy less apt to follow a boom and bust trajectory. As the Maker City Playbook says, “This ability to move fluidly from traditional work to a small business to freelance is important to keep people productive across a lifetime of work.”
We need to champion our region’s small business leaders and recognize the successes that they’ve had despite minimal support. The greater Sacramento region’s economic development strategy has traditionally focused on spending millions of dollars to attract external businesses when there is tremendous economic potential in our own backyards ready to be invested in, nurtured and grown. It’s time we reinvent our region by synchronizing philosophies, visions and objectives together with existing distributed innovation ecosystems to create resilience and seed innovation for generations to come.