City of Kitchener – Why we Support Maker Expo

We continue our #SponsorThankYouWeek with an interview with Cory Bluhm, the Executive Director of Economic Development at the City of Kitchener.

If you want to make a difference in the world, you can make it in Kitchener, because this community will help you.” – Cory Bluhm

The City of Kitchener has sponsored Maker Expo for the last four years. What makes the relationship such a good fit for the city?

The art of making is at the very core of our community, both our past, present and future.  You just have to look at our strong roots in manufacturing and food production, and now hardware, to see that it’s at our very foundation.  It’s who we are as a community.  We make things.  But our job as the City is not to do the making, but to enable makers to do what they do so well.  And there’s no better way than to help Maker Expo create a platform for our amazing and diverse community of makers to come together and showcase their talents to the greater community.

How did the #MakeItKitchener strategy originate? What are its origins?

It was truly the community who pointed us in this direction.  In 2015 we undertook City-wide consultation to develop our latest Economic Development Strategy.  What emerged was a resounding spirit that at the core of Kitchener, is a spirit of making.  From the typical furniture makers, tool and die makers, etc.; to the perhaps less obvious makers in our community – code writers, music makers, artists, social entrepreneurs, etc. – we are all makers in some way shape or form.  It’s what made us who we are today, so let’s let it continue to be the spirit that carries us forward.

How has the #MakeItKitchener strategy enhanced the city since it began a few years ago?

When we landed on #MakeItKitchener as the identity of our strategy, we started sharing it around (on t-shirts, stickers, social media, etc.).  What we didn’t anticipate – which was truly awesome – is how the community organically latched on to it, rallied around it, and ultimately expanded its meaning.  The brand became not just about making, but about a simple  – “If you want to make a difference in the world, you can make it in Kitchener, because this community will help you”.

As for the strategy itself, it was bold and ambitious with 53 action items.  With much help from our community of partners, makers and city-builders, all but 4 have started.  But to be clear, what makes #MakeItKitchener special is it’s not the City doing all the work.  In most cases, we are working in partnership with community and business leaders to bring action forward.  We are simply trying to make it easier for these passionate city-builders to make a difference.  But what’s even more inspiring (and truly telling about the spirit that makes Kitchener special) is that people didn’t wait for us to give the green light.  Community leaders picked up the baton themselves and initiated change on their own.  When you add up all the change in the last few years, collectively, we have so many accomplishments to be proud of.  Think about Catalyst 137, the Heffner Studio at the Central Library, 44 Gaukel, Velocity Garage, Lot 42, Maker Expo…the list goes on and on.  But what inspires me most is that we are doing it all together, the way we always have!

What do you see as the future of Making in Kitchener and the surrounding region? 

 If anything, the maker movement is only going to gain more steam moving forward.  For two reasons:

First, our community has more access to more maker spaces now, and at different levels and access points.  Catalyst 137 will no doubt live up to its name and be a catalyst for growth in the advanced manufacturing, smart cities and IoT industries.  The Velocity Garage, Communitech Hub and 44 Gaukel are great facilities that are nurturing new companies and supporting entrepreneurs.  Kwartzlab and Globe Studios continue to grow as thriving communities.  Conestoga College and the Universities continue to create new, dynamic programs that support making.  And now we have places that any resident (young and old) can walk into and learn the art of making – like the Underground Studio at THEMUSEUM, Heffner Studio at the KPL and the community made Library of Things.  It’s this richness and diversity that will help our community to continue to grow!

[Editor note: Communitech, The Underground Studio, Conestoga College, University of Waterloo and Wilfred Laurier University are also major sponsors of Maker Expo… proving this point!]

Secondly, our community is embracing the notion that ‘making’ isn’t just what you can do with your hands.  At the core, it’s about ‘Making a Difference’ and ‘Making our Community Better’ together.  With this fueling our collective passion, there’s no limit to how great the maker movement can become.

What have you made lately?

I’m an urban designer by trade (fancy term for folks who help design streets, buildings, etc.).  We’re working really hard to bring the Queen Street Placemaking plan to life so that we can start reconstruction in 2019.  Today, the central section of Queen Street functions more like a pass through than a destination.  The new plan should shift this dynamic and create a truly people-focused street.  At the end of the day, we’re not building a road, we’re making a place.

Do you have a fond memory of previous Maker Expo’s you’d like to share?

My kids were huge Big hero 6 fans.  I’m sure I’ve watched the movie a hundred times.  If you haven’t seen it, the opening scene revolves around the underground world of bot fighting.  To see real-life Bot Fights at Maker Expo was mind-blowing to my kids.

Who do you hope attends this year and why?

My hope for Maker Expo is that it provides the spark to someone who’s been thinking about making something or making a difference in our community, and it gives them that little bit of confidence to know that there is an entire community of makers doing it right along with them, ready to help them if they need it.  I know our current generation of makers will be there, but I’m hopeful our next generation of makers come too!

Any hard feelings that we needed to grow beyond city hall? 🙂

There’s certainly an undeniable civic and community energy that happens anytime an event occurs downtown and at City Hall.  But it’s a testament to the growth of the Maker movement in Kitchener that Maker Expo needs a bigger stage!

Editor: Thanks again to Cory and the entire City of Kitchener team for helping keep Maker Expo the thriving success that it is now and into the future!

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