WATERLOO — The Cedar Valley Makers are setting up shop in a big way on a floor of the Cedar Valley TechWorks near downtown Waterloo.
Armed with a couple of good-sized grants and a boatload of goodwill donations, the nonprofit group has accumulated an eclectic array of production equipment, ranging from a laser cutter to welders to metal lathes.
They’re fitting out their “maker space” on a floor of a former John Deere production building, the “Tech 1” building at 360 Westfield Ave., for inventors, entrepreneurs, industrialists and crafters. They range in age from people in their early 20s to retirees.
They’ve signed up 20 paid members so far and they want to get more. The initial goal is about 100. Toward that end, they’re planning coffee open houses and other public events to encourage folks to putter, play and produce in the maker space.
They’ve spent the past few months “fixing a couple of the kinks,” said Danny Laudick, one of the original “makers” and talent development coordinator for the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance and Chamber. “We’re still getting some of the equipment set up. We just recently got the machine shop to the point where people can use it.”
People are hearing of the operation by word of mouth and stopping in.
“We had a guy come in, he’s a weld engineer for John Deere. He just wanted to become a member. But then he’s been taking names and numbers; he’s going to be offering some welding classes. He had kind of an education background as well. So we’re just starting to see people coming in, looking to get involved.”
Cedar Valley Makers Inc., created about a year ago, is pulling together a metal shop, wood shop, electronics lab and 3D printers on about 5,000 square feet of space on the third floor of the Cedar Valley TechWorks building.
They secured a $20,000 matching grant from the McElroy Trust and an account through the Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa. In August, the organization also received a $50,000 grant from the Black Hawk County Gaming Association to purchase equipment for the maker space.
The equipment is open to use by artisans, crafters, inventors and manufacturers who would pay a monthly fee.
The “maker space” — a concept happening in other locations around the country — would be open to all ages and skill levels, and it’s hoped the cooperative atmosphere would generate a synergy of creative minds that could lead, potentially, to new products, new companies and new jobs for the area.
An open house in May resulted in a good-sized crowd, and the shop also was a stop on Main Street Waterloo’s “Tour de ‘Loo” of downtown projects.
“We had one guy who just moved to town a month and a half ago, who, the week he was here, heard about it and showed up,” Laudick said. “He’d been involved in one in Missouri. He was worried there wouldn’t be anything to be involved with here. He was involved with the local high school there. He was interested in being involved with the schools here. That’s one thing that’s been really nice — a lot of the members getting involved and willing to help.”
The monthly membership is $25 a month for individuals during a start-up “beta” period. The Makers also have talked with local smaller manufacturers about donating scrap materials and other items to work with. Long term, they would like to have a working relationship with major manufacturers such as Deere.
The Makers also are hoping to get multiple generations involved. “One guy brought his dad in with him, a retiree. He became a member, too,” Laudick said. They’re also talking with local retirement communities about involving residents with manufacturing or crafting skills in the maker space.
“Now that we finally have a little more time to focus on community stuff, now that we have a lot of the physical set up done, we’re looking at doing Saturday morning coffees for members, have a chance for everyone to get together and socialize,” Laudick said.
The space is already being used for a range of activities. “We are talking right now with a company who wants to use the laser cutter for product development because we can offer access to them cheaper than it costs them to lease a laser cutter,” Laudick said. “And then members are just working on custom craft jewelry. Another is working on a bicycle frame. Everything from craft to product development.”
He noted some companies also are interested in involving their employees just for the sake of giving them a place to practice hobbies as a kind of quality-of-life amenity.
Laudick said the Makers also are on consultation with local schools and exploring the possibility of getting some of its skilled-retiree members to work with them and involving local school robotics teams in assembling their projects.
“There’s a world of opportunities,” Laudick said, including putting on product-development workshops utilizing members with skills in that area, or new-product photography as tool for marketing new products.
Or, maybe a “community-build” day inviting people to come and try out equipment with donated raw materials. Or putting together kid-friendly project kits for parents to bring their children to come in and tinker with.
Laudick also is involved with the Mill Race project of developer Mark Kittrell along State Street in Cedar Falls. Entrepreneurs in that project may be able to help Cedar Valley Makers Space members in marketing new products.
“A lot of the people that ‘make stuff’ aren’t usually thinking about market development, product commercialization,” he said. “But you can connect them with the people that are doing a lot of that.
“We hope to bring some that community side to it, build some of those relationships between people to realize there’s really no reason you can’t develop your product,” Laudick said.
Open shop hours are 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Individuals can stop any time during open shop hours for a tour. New member orientations are currently held every Saturday at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.