Napa is known the world over for primarily one thing: wine. Since the 1970s, the region has been a top destination for tourists who visit its renowned wineries and award-winning restaurants.

Like in any city or region, however, there is more to the story. The wine industry has created upstream and downstream sectors in tourism and the manufacturing of products, like bottles, corks, and labels, to support it. And to complement that well-known Napa brand, the city also has a well-established community of makers and artisans who produce jewelry, fine art, handmade accessories, and the like.

City leaders see an opportunity to leverage assets and strengths in making and manufacturing to create a more diverse economy—one that expands the Napa brand and attracts artist, makers, and creatives to live and work there.
Since 2019, the City of Napa has been actively exploring how to attract creatives on the “Artist to Manufacturer Continuum,” which includes artists, makers, and manufacturers of all sizes. Through its newly formed “Make It In Napa” initiative, the City is assessing the feasibility of creating a supportive ecosystem in the region. The project was inspired in part by the success of SFMade and its sister organization PlaceMade in creating a brand identity to unite San Francisco manufacturers and building the Manufacturing Foundry at 150 Hooper, the Bay Area’s first permanently affordable, multi-tenant building dedicated to manufacturing and creating quality jobs for low-income residents.

“There are a lot of assets that Napa has in terms of manufacturing and making, and there are supply chains for the winery industry that could be leveraged to advance other sectors,” said Neal Harrison, Development Project Coordinator in the Economic Development Division of the City of Napa. “We also see an opportunity to create affordable spaces for innovation and incubating makers, like SFMade and PlaceMade have done at 150 Hooper.”

A 2019 economic development report by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute was the catalyst for the initiative. The report suggested that Napa could create a stronger and more diverse economy by growing its creative and manufacturing sectors in a way that would complement its world-famous tourism, agricultural, and healthcare industries. Developing combined live/work spaces was identified as a priority in the report as a way to attract and retain artists and makers.

Based on this recommendation, the City commissioned PlaceMade and Minneapolis-based Artspace to assess the feasibility of a mixed-use project that would include affordable live/work space for creatives and their families, studio/creative work-only spaces for individuals, and industrial and production work spaces for small and mid-sized manufacturers and creative businesses.

The complementary skillsets of the two nonprofit organizations made them uniquely suited to the task.

Through advising and development services, PlaceMade works with regional municipalities to generate jobs by creating more affordable real estate to grow manufacturing businesses. Artspace uses the tools of real estate development to create affordable places where artists can live and work.
In 2019, PlaceMade and Artspace conducted research and focus groups and issued a preliminary report, which was supportive of the concept of creating a new community “hub” for living, working, and making to draw more artists, makers, manufacturing businesses, and jobs to the Napa area.

Encouraged by the study’s findings, the City of Napa secured a grant from the Economic Development Administration to take the plan to the next level. They engaged PlaceMade and Artspace once again, this time to develop a “Local Manufacturing and Creative Space Action Plan.” The team began its work in March 2021, and in October, it will deliver recommendations to the City and local partners on the steps they can take to make Napa a place where businesses along the Artist to Manufacturer continuum can thrive, from individual artists/makers to small- and large-scale manufacturers. The Plan will examine needs and opportunities, including space, government policy, workforce, education/training, business support, promotion/sales, housing, and capital.

“We are currently reaching out to the community, creating an advisory team, and mapping the manufacturing assets that the City of Napa already has,” said Gina Falsetto, Project Director at PlaceMade.

SFMade, PlaceMade’s sister organization, also leads the Bay Area Urban Manufacturing Initiative, a region-wide effort that includes 31 cities and municipalities working together to ensure a more interconnected, resilient, regional manufacturing ecosystem.

“Our experience working with municipalities across the Bay Area makes us uniquely positioned to help the City of Napa understand the opportunities of growing and retaining the manufacturing sector, and to advise on issues such as industrial land use, zoning, and planning,” said Falsetto.

As the developer of 150 Hooper, PlaceMade has direct experience planning an industrial, mixed-use project like the one envisioned by the City of Napa. Artspace, as the developer and long-term operator of more than 50 affordable artist live/work, studio-only, and mixed-use facilities nationally, brings expertise in developing affordable residential and studio spaces for artists and creatives.

“In our collective work from coast to coast, we have seen great examples of spaces for industrial, makers, and creative sector residential uses but nothing that offers a critical mass of all three space types on a single site,” said Teri Deaver, VP at Artspace Consulting. “Napa has such a strong identity in its history of making things, growing things, and in its artisanal approach. There’s an opportunity to take that to next level and to diversify its branding for what Napa means as a home for creatives and the people visiting there.”

Branding Napa as a hub for makers and creatives can also strengthen the region’s economic resilience, which the COVID-19 pandemic has brought into sharper focus, said Harrison.

“Since the Great Recession of 2008, the majority of job gains in Napa have come from tourist-related industries—hotels, restaurants, arts and entertainment,” said Harrison.  “With the COVID-19 pandemic there was a shellacking of those key industries. The idea of diversification became even more urgent.”

A strong, centralized manufacturing and creative sector could provide well-paying, sustainable employment for Napa residents, many of whom work seasonal jobs in the vineyards or in construction or have to commute out of the city and county to afford the region’s high housing prices.

“The idea of better jobs from manufacturing is certainly part of our thinking,” said Harrison. “We need to advance the workforce in Napa in new emerging fields and manufacturing is one of them.”

Make It In Napa (www.makeitinnapa.com)