Can Hipsters and the Artisan Economy Save the Middle Class?

Kathy Willens/APA view of the Williamsburg Bridge and the Brooklyn skyline.
BROOKLYN, New York -- Could the key to saving America's middle class be found in a once-abandoned industrial site in Brooklyn?

When pharmaceutical giant Pfizer (PFE) closed its Brooklyn factory in 2008, 2,500 people lost their jobs. For years, the building remained vacant, another reminder of lost business and revenues. Then, over the past two years, several start-up businesses began to rent space in the location, creating a small business incubator for the city, thanks to Acumen Capital Partners and Ashish Dua.

The site that rumored has it witnessed Viagra's creation has now given birth to several new companies. Occupants now include makers of tea-based probiotics, animal leashes that support pet adoption, and even alcoholic slushie drinks.

The plant's tenants currently employ 1,000 people. However, with only 40 percent of the space occupied, and some businesses growing, the number of individuals working on the site may soon return to levels last seen when Pfizer was in residence.

It's a trend that's not limited to a single repurposed factory, nor even a single major city. Across the country, the "artisan economy" is growing. Could it be the key to saving the middle class? Some think so.

"There's a ton of jobs out there. You have to kind of craft it in your community," explains Kerry Mills to PBS. Mills' small business is Engaging Alzheimer's, which assists both suffers and caregivers of the illness to create a better environment for everyone involved. She and others in the field believe that those with an average college education can create their own livelihood as well.

The trend doesn't stop at smaller production items. People are turning their biology and business degrees into service industry positions in areas such as environmental pest control. The options for artisanal entrepreneurship seem to be limited only by the imagination.

It will take time to see if this trend will pick up more broadly, but small business has always been a key driver of job growth in this country. Maybe bringing those artisanal passions to work will be the element the middle class uses to realize their dreams once again.

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It seems like the writer of this article might have just finished reading Richard Florida's book --- "The Great Reset", which is all about this same pipe dream of the artistic part of the population saving the economy.

Mr. Florida managed to sell this scam to several big cities, and their mayors promoted investing heavily in this nutty scenario. Later, he publicly admitted that his book is nothing but a dream world with no actual basis in reality. Of course, by that time, he had already made a ton of money from the book sales.

July 20 2014 at 3:37 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The economy will not heal till we eliminate the vast deap weight of salestrash and marketeering trash holding it down. The non producer class of the finance, insurance and real estate (FIRE) sector drives the price of everything up till it is impossible to compete while they produce nothing. After the 2008 bailout tens of thousands of wall street salestrash should have been sent to prison for the scams they were running and continue to run. Till these morons see serious prison time and we shed the tons of dead weight that is composed by this and other varieties of commission grubbing salestrash there is no chance for our economy.

July 18 2014 at 10:07 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to hsenpfeffer's comment

The bank presidents who caused the housing meltdown in '07 and who were bailed out truly felt there were going to be heavy fines, regulations and conditionals to deal with. But obama and geithner let them off the hook......they(the bankers) never looked back.

July 18 2014 at 10:23 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to .kowalski440mag's comment

Whiel Obama and his various financial minions certainly have not enforced appropriately, the bailout and TARP swindle was written, initiated and pushed through by the cheney/bushjunior regime specifically henry paulson.

July 18 2014 at 3:02 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down

what is left to save?

July 17 2014 at 11:38 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

Sorry, the middle class is long gone. You have the rich and the poor. These small business are usually funded by deep pockets. Banks are not giving out business loans to hipsters to knit scarves for service dog and jar their own pickles. Get real and wake up America. Our money is being shipped out of the country just like all of the jobs and we are FORCED to live like hipsters because of it.

July 17 2014 at 11:24 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Voodoo's comment

small business is pretty much a myth

July 18 2014 at 2:26 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Third World anyone? I lived and worked in 13 countries where the kind of economy you are talking about was the ONLY economy. Trust me. This a regressive idea and only provincial and hopelessly naïve Americans can think this way. The people now flooding into the US are coming from artisanal economies. Ask them why they are invading.

July 17 2014 at 10:24 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Want to save the middle class? Then fix what threatens it today; an uneducated electorate that thinks unions are bad and free trade agreements are good.

July 17 2014 at 8:22 PM Report abuse +14 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jimdavis11a's comment


July 18 2014 at 12:23 AM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply

Read the comments below, it seems everyone watches faux news. Ignorance at its finest.

July 17 2014 at 7:50 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to markallentunney's comment

I have always wondered how they can watch faux news when they can't see the sun

July 17 2014 at 8:24 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

As a side business, creative artistic people can sometimes earn some money doing what they love. But this effort usually only works IF they also have a job producing a weekly pay check, which is what is really paying the bills, putting food on the table, etc.

Anyone, who has ever tried supporting themselves by making any sort of merchandise by hand knows, from experience how tough this is to do and how much the odds are stacked against it being successful as a full-time profitable business.

90% of this is best suited to a weekend sales effort at outdoor fairs or indoor craft shows.

The idea that it is possible for "hipsters and artisans" to save the middle class with this concept isn't realistic.

July 17 2014 at 5:12 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply

no one can save the middle class if Washington only favors the poor and the rich.

July 17 2014 at 4:31 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to scottee's comment

You got the last half right. The only time the poor were favored was when the New Deal made them into middle class members.

July 17 2014 at 8:26 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

This really can't work on a large enough scale. If some artisan can make 50 chairs and 25 tables in a year, that gives us 50 chairs and 25 tables. If a worker can make 50 cars a year in a factory, we have 50 cars. the utility of 50 cars is so much higher than the utility of 50 chairs and 25 tables (that had better last forever) that we could never survive as a society with everyone making furniture at home.

July 17 2014 at 4:21 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply