Made in Philadelphia: The Comeback of 'the Workshop of the World'

From the late 1800's to the early 1900's, Philadelphia was such a strong and diverse manufacturing hub that it was known as "The Workshop of the World". The city was in a perfect position to take on this distinction due to a rail system that connected it to other major port cities, and for its location on the Delaware River. From the ability to ship products virtually anywhere in the country, came a city filled with entrepreneur's establishing industrial startups.

During this time period, many cities had strong manufacturing, but most of these cities typically tended to have a competitive advantage in one distinct industry, such as the automotive industry in Detroit. Unlike these cities, Philadelphia was a strong player in hundreds of industries ranging from knitting mills and breweries, to naval equipment. Of the strongest industries was the textile industry, one could design their product, get the material, dye it, and manufacture it all in Philadelphia. Philadelphia was attractive to individuals from all over the world, and many immigrants moved into the region to not only be laborers, but also entrepreneurs. The wages were good, and the job opportunities were bountiful.

After WWI, the Great Depression hit, and the economy in Philadelphia suffered. With the start of WWII industry picked up again, but only for a short period of time. After the war, manufacturing changed. Manufacturing was cheaper in the south, and many companies began relocating, and eventually left the country altogether. Modern manufacturing was also different, and no longer required the types of factories built all over the city. Repurposing these buildings was expensive, and land for additional modern factories was limited. Philadelphia soon became a city filled with shells of abandoned factories and a disappearing manufacturing scene.

Decades have passed, and to say that Philadelphia is still a city filled with shells of abandoned factories wouldn't be a lie, there are many all over the city. But, to say that Philadelphia is still a city with disappearing manufacturing, would be a lie. Manufacturing is on the rise, but not in the historical sense that the city is used to. Gone are the days, not just in Philadelphia but throughout the nation, where we will see large factories emerging. Today, we see an emergence of small batch manufacturing, and we have a new name for it, we call it "the makers movement". Don't be fooled by the hipster terminology, this is the return of manufacturing.

There is a growing demand for clothing, jewelry, food, and other artisanal items to carry the "Made in Philadelphia" brand. Philadelphians are proud of their past, and want to see it return. Yet, for years these types of small businesses have had an incredibly difficult time accessing capital, especially those businesses who are in the early stage of their life cycle.

This is all about to change. In December of 2014, Kiva Zip, in conjunction with the City of Philadelphia's Department of Commerce, launched Kiva City Philadelphia. In Philadelphia, Kiva Zip has seen a majority of loans go to entrepreneurs in the 'maker's community' - 21% of loans went to arts, craft, and fashion businesses, and 36% of loans went to food producers or restaurants. Maker's like Scott Niemet of Olliver Lifestyle,producing small batches of hand-made, ethical and vegan candles in South Philly; like Peter Merzbacher of Philly Bread(now rebranded: Philly Muffin) producing literally some of the best bread you'll ever have out of his small bakery in Olney where he employs the local population; and like Terese of Terese Sydonna,bringing Philadelphia back to its roots in the textile industry with her hand-made in Philadelphia ready-to-wear women's clothing and accessories. Kiva Zip borrowers and the Kiva Zip trustees who support them, like The Food Trust,The Enterprise Center, NextFab, and the Philadelphia Fashion Incubatorare committed to the "Made in Philadelphia" brand, committed to bringing back small batch manufacturing- and Kiva Zip is committed to helping them do so.


Posted by Alyssa Thomas, Manager, Kiva Zip Philadelphia

Jan 14, 2015

While attending college, Alyssa took a trip to Leon, Nicaragua to distribute microloans to small businesses. In preparation for the class, she read “Banker to the Poor” by Muhammad Yunus, it was an eye-opener for her that businesses and economic models could exist for a social cause and did not have to be about shareholder wealth. Alyssa started focusing more on social businesses, and through her position as the President of the International Business Society was able to bring Muhammad Yunus to speak at her university. He encouraged her to continue to focus on microfinance and economic development, and not be afraid to 'start small'.

After graduation, Alyssa joined Kiva Zip as a fellow in Richmond, VA. When her fellowship was completed, she was offered the opportunity to move to Philadelphia to serve as a Kiva Zip fellow under the City of Philadelphia's Department of Commerce. She has moved out of a fellowship role, and is now the manager of Kiva Zip Philadelphia for the Department of Commerce.


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