Over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal tackled an issue we’ve been anecdotally hearing about from local business owners for ages: once your locally-made item of choice really takes off (artisanal beef jerky, beauty products, just about anything), it’s more or less impossible to keep your business (and the jobs its creates) in Brooklyn.
At least, not the part of it where things actually get made; for all the publicity re-purposed spaces like the Old American Can Factory have been getting, there’s virtually no manufacturing space left in the borough. “There is such a strong desire to keep manufacturing in Brooklyn, but for people who are running these businesses it’s next to impossible once you get past your little startup phase,” Kings County Jerky Co. co-owner Chris Woehrle told the paper. And in a recent survey, 70 percent of local food manufacturers said they felt their Brooklyn facilities limited production possibilities, and 38 percent have had to move to production facilities outside the borough (including Kings County Jerky, which now makes its product at a family-owned facility in Pennsylvania). There are also out-of-control rents to consider. Morris Kitchen’s owner added, “It would be great to stay in Brooklyn. It would be great even to be in New York state.”
It’s not necessarily the end of the world—it’s a good thing that small-batch business are expanding, and most of them end up finding deserving businesses out of state to help them do what they need to do. No one’s outsourcing their pickle-making operation to a sweatshop (McClures, for instance, now produces in Detroit). Still, it’d be nice to keep that economic growth in the borough, especially given how much of the city’s former manufacturing space has been quietly transformed into housing for millionaires. Councilman Stephen Levin has proposed the creating of a new “co-packing facility” (a company that handles the production for multiple small companies at once), which could be difficult in and of itself, given restrictions on what types of food items can be produced within the same facility (i.e. vegan goods can’t really live under the same roof as meat, etc.). But wouldn’t it be cool if everything with “Brooklyn” on the label really did get made here?
Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.