Tech Town or TechShop?

It started as “tool town” – but got stuck in the muck for so long that we outsourced our whole tool and die industry to China.

The next shot was “tech town” a government-sponsored subsidized office complex with better branding. It screwed local real estate owners by offering ridiculously low rents in a market that’s already overbuilt.

But- if we were really creating something in line with our history of inventors and tinkerers- like the “barn gang” of Kettering and Deeds- we’d have something more like a Front Street for Geeks- a “hacker space”- as this new chain from the West Coast is creating:

TechShop represents an inevitable, corporatized version of the “hacker spaces” that have risen in popularity over the past couple of years to cater to people who like to hack things open and see how they work.

The typical hacker space consists of a few dozen people who share the costs of renting a work area and buying tools. There are spaces that lean toward robotics, some that specialize in software and others that generally encourage the melding of metal, electronics and plastic in artful forms.

TechShops offer more structure and a grander scale. Each has hundreds of members who pay a $100 monthly fee for access to a workshop and $500,000 of equipment. The members sign up for time on a machine or for a class and pop into the TechShop to do their work.

via Ping – At TechShops, Do-It-Yourselfers Get to Use Expensive Tools – NYTimes.com.

Instead of investing in a business- or in bricks and mortar- we’d have been investing in the proverbial fishing rods to hand to people to fish. Considering the geek factor of WPAFB, UD, WSU etc. A hacker space may give some people the tools to really build something amazing. Maybe this is what we should add on to the Engineers Club in the space where the former “Kettering Center” of WSU is?

Instead of talking about “Get Midwest” – let’s show off Midwest- with a little bit of vision – creating a playground for the next generation of Wright brothers. This sounds like a much better investment than $500K to Teradata to move a few blocks.

[Update 10am] Jstults connected me to Hive13 in Cincinnati- est. in 2009. They have this explanatory video on the site:

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32 Responses

  1. Leslie Marsh April 12, 2010 / 8:43 am
    What fun! That sounds like an excellent idea. I’d love to see what could come out of such a “tech playground!”

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  2. jstults April 12, 2010 / 9:38 am
    Cincinnati already has a hackerspace: Hive13
     
    The TechShop model is the big corporate version of the grassroots maker movement (they have upwards of $500k worth of tools in a  shop! every geek has his price…).  I think part of the appeal of a hackerspace is the cooperative nature of the thing (the funding model, the governance, the projects, the learning from your peers), not sure you’d get that from a membership at the local TechShop.  Maybe BigBoxHackerSpace is Dayton’s style, they’re looking for folks interested in franchises.

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  3. David Esrati April 12, 2010 / 9:58 am

    As always- Jstults- thank you. Great connection to Hive13 – I added the link and video to the post.

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  4. jstults April 12, 2010 / 10:06 am
    Maybe BigBoxHackerSpace is Dayton’s style…

    Or maybe not.

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  5. Will Brooks April 12, 2010 / 10:24 am
    I think Techtown, in it’s current state, is a joke. I bicycle by there several times a week and have stopped there and stared at it many times over. Given the years gone by, what is it 10 years, or so, since Turner came up with tool town – it’s laughable. At least they knocked down all the derelict buildings that used to be there. Of course what any of the local politicians points to to show off job creation and economic development when seeking re-election is Techtown – vis a vis Rhin McLin.
     
    I like your ideas David E., and thanks for the connection to Hive13 Jstults. Great stuff and I would love to see something like that here.
     
    Does Hive13 generate revenue, or jobs? just curious.

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  6. Steve April 12, 2010 / 11:37 am
    What is a joke about Tech Town? It has free parking, good landscaping, and the second building will start going up in a few months.  It’s not going to be like The Greene where someone just puts up 200 million dollars and it’s done. It’ll be a work in progress for a while. The number of workers in that one building has been growing every month since it opened less than a year ago. Also, it’s not like an established company comes in and adds 200 jobs. The people working there are with start-ups and have to pull their wages out of thin air.

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  7. Will Brooks April 12, 2010 / 11:44 am
    What I find a joke about it is thousands of jobs have vanished from Dayton over the years and people point to tech town as something that helps offset economic decay. The joke is that politicians point to it and say “look at tech town!” Personally, on it’s own merit, I think tech town is great. However, to me it’s been politicized way too much and is not an answer to Dayton’s job losses and economic decline.
     
    With that said, I appreciate what you posted and admit that you educated me on what’s going on there. For example, I didn’t realize free parking, employment growth, and self-sufficient business growth were hallmarks of the facility.  Thanks.

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  8. withheld April 12, 2010 / 1:41 pm
    I agree. It’s not a savior of any sorts, and way too many people take way too much credit for whatever is there. Honestly, I think the only answer to Dayton’s job losses and economic decline is expensive gas.

    Although, it’d be great if it could pull through, and if they were able to implement the “master plan” for Webster Station. Wishful thinking? 

    I don’t know where Esrati gets his information that Tech Town is hurting local real estate owners. I can’t think of much that has more potential to help them (maybe Riverscape?)  I can tell you 100% that anyone who choses to locate in Tech Town did so because they wanted to, not because it was “cheaper” than 11 west monument. It’s either Tech Town or the suburbs, no option three. 

    Plus, any subsidy that may be there is offset by the fact the city takes a piece of ownership of much of the IP and equity that grows out of Tech Town. For better or for worse, they’re invested in it. And for the people that work there, paying that back; it’s personal.

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  9. Gene April 12, 2010 / 2:25 pm
    The real estate question is always a good one. There are buildings owned by people (in this case DT Dayton), and if you want “in that game” you have to purchase (or rent) from these people who over value their buildings. Often a person’s only solution to this is to build or get lucky and get a building on the cheap when someone dies or when a company wants out of the game. As far as I am concerned the game is stacked against most, so screw real estate owners. They need to understand their property is not worth crap. Charge low rent? Hell yes. Maybe that will attract people. I see rents so far out of line for businesses in DT Dayton no one can afford to rent down there. Dayton is dead bc of this – there should be lower in DT Dayton and maybe businesses will be interested. But to each owner their own.

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  10. David Esrati April 12, 2010 / 2:34 pm

    @withheld-

    I think there are some property owners who just lost a major tenant to Research Park just down the street- who would love to be able to offer rent at $2 sq ft- if it wouldn’t put them out of business.

    If you need to know who they are- you can sign your name- or give me a real e-mail.

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  11. withheld April 12, 2010 / 3:21 pm
    Research park is not Tech Town, Tech Town is Dayton’s competitor to Research Park.  Who rents at $2 /sf?  Tech Town is listed at $14/sf.   Do those property owners offer free parking?

    Do a survey, and it will look something like this:  (disclosure: pure speculation)

    Why would you move your business from downtown to the suburbs?

    75% – Parking
    20% – Lack of amenities
    4% – Crime
    1% – everything else (including income taxes and lease rates)

    Do a real survey and see what the numbers are. Might find some interesting stuff. Let us know.   Other questions to ask could be  “Why don’t you dine downtown?” – “Why don’t you shop downtown?”  I’m guessing the answers will be pretty similar.

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  12. David Esrati April 12, 2010 / 3:56 pm

    @Withheld the landlord down the street had free parking.

    I hardly see Tech Town providing other amenities that you talk about- the dining isn’t any better than the existing space down the street. What you do have is brand new space at lower than old space- that’s not how it’s supposed to work-

    when the government undercuts the market, it devalues the tax base that pays it’s freight. Net losses all around.

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  13. Joe McKibben April 12, 2010 / 4:04 pm
    You want to see a hackerspace in Dayton?
    http://www.daytondiode.com
    Dayton Diode is Dayton’s hackerspace initiative. We have been having monthly meetings since last July, trying to organize ourselves. We recently gained 501c3 status by organizing ourselves under the Dayton Microcomputer Association. Currently working on our insurance policy and will most likely have a space in the next 2 – 3 months.

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  14. Joe McKibben April 12, 2010 / 4:07 pm
    I am actually in that video about the Hive13 from about 00:19 to 00:22. Some of us guys from Dayton Diode went down there that same day they were shooting the video.

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  15. David Esrati April 12, 2010 / 6:04 pm

    @Joe- thanks for the info- but, it seems that your site’s been hacked- or isn’t resolving.

    Keep us informed.

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  16. Joe McKibben April 12, 2010 / 6:13 pm
    Oh, your site automatically added the www and I didn’t notice. For whatever reason it wont forward to the  wiki with http://www.  I haven’t figured it out yet.

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  17. jstults April 12, 2010 / 8:24 pm
    Joe,   from what I could gather on your wiki / browsing the mailing list you guys don’t have a space yet, but are looking pretty actively.  Are you currently taking members?  If folks want to join should they just show up to the next meeting?

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  18. Joe McKibben April 12, 2010 / 8:34 pm
    @jstults – No we do not have a space yet. We must work out some insurance issues before we rent a space.
    Yes please come to the next meeting. At our last meeting we just developed a Founding Membership class for $25 a month. With this membership you will be counted in our consensus process but it is not necessary to purchase this membership in order to come and participate in the meeting. We created it mostly to have some funds in the bank when we need them in the future.
    The first hour of the meeting is normally some business issues and then an hour of some “hacking” time. May 4 we will probably be working on some Rube Goldberg ideas for our Ribbon Cutting ceremony.
    The location is TBD but will probably either be at the C{space or Packetwars on 502 Wayne Ave.

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  19. Steve April 12, 2010 / 9:20 pm
    If you don’t mind me asking, how many people do you know who will join and what kind of price range are you looking for? What skills do they have and what kinds of projects are you looking to get on the table? 

    Have you considered setting up shop in Tech Town?  

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  20. jstults April 12, 2010 / 9:32 pm
    From the thread Joe posted:

    We are currently experiencing a problem that I suspect will be experienced by many shops attempting to provide this sort of service, and has affected others before (most notably NIMBY) – CODE COMPLIANCE.
    The issue we are running into is that in order to make a space where people can MAKE without being professionals who sell a lot of materials, the rent and fees must be minimal. In order to do this, the organization can’t charge much more than the expenses on the facility, and has to run with minimal overhead, and low margins (we do this by design, since we are a CO non-profit organization).
    The problem is that the code and fire safety requirements for running an INDUSTRIAL space are much higher than for running a home workshop, and are designed around facilities that make a lot of money doing what they do, hence, can afford $300/door panic bars, complete fire protection systems, full ADA compliant upgrades, etc. A facility that essentially generates no income beyond what is necessary to pay the bills plus a little pad for the future can’t handle that level of requirement. Right now we are faced with many long lists of required corrections – and if they were all done, we would either a) run out of money, or b) have to raise fees to our members above their budgets as “personal makers”.
    Our facility is very safe by “home workshop” standards, but still not up to snuff for “industrial and light manufacturing” standards in our area.
    This creates a trap in the business model – home workshops fall on one side of the fence, true industrial job-shops fall on the other side, but when you combine the two concepts, you end up with something that is very difficult to make tenable, the way most fire and building codes are written.

    What say you Civil Servants are People, Too?  Can Dayton City Gov make our prospective hackerspace an opportunity for Cando rather than a Gotcha?  The guys down in Cinci had to move because of Inspector Gotcha too, seems to be a bit of a trend…

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  21. Joe McKibben April 12, 2010 / 9:35 pm
    That is kind of hard to answer. We asked that same question to the group a few month ago. We got about 12 who said they would be willing to pay $50 a month for membership. I will have a better idea after May 4 when we see who all pays for a Founders Membership. Also I expect our membership to grow once we have the space to show off. Most people are not interested in the business of getting something like this set up.
     
    We have wide range of skills right now, software development, web development, computer security, physical computing, circuit design, ..etc. As to the projects on the table I am not sure. I am personally thinking of working on a project that involves Laser Tag and Augmented Reality.
     
    We have not considered the Tech Town. I figure it would be out of our price range. We mostly have been looking at the Front St area because of affordability and the month to month rent arrangement.

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  22. Joe McKibben April 12, 2010 / 9:39 pm
    @jstults I am not familiar with the Cinci hackerspace having to move because of any inspector problems. We have been in close contact with them for a while.

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  23. jstults April 12, 2010 / 9:45 pm
    Well, I could have sworn I read it on their site, but now I can’t find the link…I’ve been reading lots of ‘hackerspace’ sites so it was probably another city (thanks for keeping me honest).

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  24. David Esrati April 12, 2010 / 9:57 pm

    Gents-

    I forwarded this thread to Sandy Mendelson, who if he was smart- would build you guys a space in his building somehow- stock it with some of his detritus, and give you guys a discount on all purchases made in his place.

    I’m not sure he’ll get it fast enough- from past experience.

    I’ve been documenting the issues with “inspector gotcha” for a while. I think the Mayor may be willing to look at helping get some flex in the process.

    Thanks for having the discussion here- and I’d like to be a part of helping, if I can be of assistance.

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  25. Brian April 13, 2010 / 9:40 pm
    @David:  great idea — one of Sandy’s buildings would be perfect, and it’s a great tie-in to his other businesses, and it’s across from TechTown, and the Incubator, and… and…      It makes too much sense.

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  26. David Esrati January 9, 2011 / 2:02 pm

    @Joe and JStults- thank’s for making this happen. I hope to be there at the open house.

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