Local artisans and entrepreneurs soon will be able to brag more boldly about the origin of their products.
As early as next month, Baltimore City's Department of Planning will begin certifying "Made in Baltimore" businesses — companies that make products in the city and local stores that sell them. Certified companies will be allowed to display a "Made in Baltimore" seal on their products, websites and store windows.
"Baltimore is not the first city to do this, but we need it here," said Andy Cook, Made in Baltimore's program coordinator.
The program's goal is to boost small, local businesses by encouraging people to buy from them and increase the number of living-wage jobs available, he said.
"I'm under no illusion Made in Baltimore will do that alone," Cook said. "But I think it's a piece of the puzzle and I'm excited to see it."
The program, run through the Planning Department's Office of Sustainability, is funded by a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration with matching funds from Baltimore Arts Realty Corp., Abell Foundation, Baltimore Development Corp. and the Planning Department, for a total budget of about $220,000.
Certified businesses will receive a digital copy of the "Made in Baltimore" seal, a black circular logo with white writing, to apply to their product packaging, marketing materials and websites. Storefront window stickers also will be available — once Cook orders them. They'll also be included in an online directory.
Local business owners welcomed the program as a way to celebrate companies that have committed to the city and possibly drive more sales among people who want to buy locally made goods.
"We're proud to be in Baltimore," said Kevin Blodger, a co-founder and director of brewing operations for Union Craft Brewing in Baltimore's Woodberry neighborhood. "To be able to put that seal on our business is another way to show our pride."
The Made in Baltimore seal on quality products could help improve people's perception of the city, Blodger said. Union Craft has not yet decided how to use the seal, or whether to incorporate it in the labels on its beer, which is sold throughout Maryland, in Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia.
The initiative taps into the trend of conscious consumerism, which has brought new attention to where goods are made, to worker wages and treatment, and to sustainability. The seal will make shoppers more aware of which products are made locally, which could benefit the companies that use it, said Jeremiah Jones, a co-owner of SewLab USA, a small-scale manufacturer of bags and accessories in Hampden.
"People are actively searching for that 'Made in U.S.A.' label and what I really like about the Baltimore project is it takes it a step further," Jones said. "People are thinking about where things are being made in a more community-based sense — not only made in the United States, but made in my own city, down the street from my house."
In a statement, Mayor Catherine E. Pugh applauded the initiative as a way to support and grow the "tremendous economic impact being made by businesses committed to thriving and growing right here in the city."
Made in Baltimore started as a personal project for Cook, who worked with the Industrial Arts Collective, an alliance of makerspaces and craft manufacturers, to organize pop-up shops featuring local artisans. Since 2015, the group has organized five pop-up shops, including one in Hampden this past holiday season.
With the federal grant, Made in Baltimore becomes a city initiative with big plans for growth.
In addition to the pop-up shops, which Cook plans to continue, the online business directory and Made in Baltimore seals, the program will aim to grow the maker and light manufacturing economy and improve access to jobs in those fields.
Made in Baltimore has already kicked off a business development series, called Workshop Wednesday, which focuses on topics such as marketing and access to capital. The series is a partnership with Open Works, a co-working and makerspace in Baltimore's Station North neighborhood.
In March, Made in Baltimore will start work with the University of Baltimore and the Urban Manufacturing Alliance, a national organization that promotes urban manufacturing, on an economic impact survey on the maker and light manufacturing sector, Cook said. Baltimore will be one of several cities studied.
Beginning in 2018, Made in Baltimore could begin offering workforce development programs. Cook is working with local makerspaces and companies, including SewLab USA, to design training programs to teach light manufacturing skills, but this piece of the program is still early in development.