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Celebrating America’s Manufacturing Resilience: Applauding Makers, Like Phorge Makerspace in Sheridan, Wyoming

We are celebrating America’s manufacturing resilience during this difficult time. Unlike traditional manufacturing facilities, makerspaces are places where people bounce ideas off each other, work out problems, learn and hone useful skills as they make things themselves. Here’s one makerspace’s unique pandemic story. 

Phorge Makerspace — part of a statewide community of makers  

Phorge Makerspace in Sheridan, Wyoming, is part of a community of makers extending throughout the state. It’s a place where people with shared interests voluntarily gather to work on projects while sharing ideas, equipment and knowledge. Makerspaces support truly diverse and creative interests — including sewing, rocketry, fabrication, 3D printing, woodworking, soap making and much more. They are popular spaces that draw people with diverse backgrounds and skill sets: students, engineers, hobbyists, mathematicians, artists — you name it. In addition to the physical space where users create things, makers participate in active online communities for learning and problem-solving.  

Phorge Makerspace offers equipment and training for 3D printing and design (computer-aided design and manufacturing, also called CAD/CAM), software coding, laser and vinyl cutting, and electronics. It warmly welcomes all to join its community to share, create, collaborate, research, develop, mentor, cross-pollinate, play and of course — learn!  

Makers making a difference during the pandemic 

During the pandemic, when personal protective equipment (PPE) was in short supply, Phorge Makerspace made it a priority to help close the supply chain gap. Phorge’s makers used their equipment and expertise to 3D-print PPE, including face shields and masks for local first responders, hospitals and many other organizations.  

With seemingly limitless demand, 3D printers ran around the clock to build stockpiles of PPE. Makerspaces from across Wyoming formed two groups to meet local PPE needs: WyoMakers in the northern part of the state and Wyoming Technology Coronavirus Coalition in the south. They had the equipment and expertise, but faced a challenge: They needed funding for materials. 

The Manufacturing Extension Partnership connects the makers to the funders 

Phorge sought help from Wyoming’s Manufacturing Works for finding funding. Manufacturing Works is one of 51 centers in the U.S. and Puerto Rico funded by the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) and part of the MEP National Network™. MEP centers are located within a couple hours’ drive of every U.S. manufacturer and offer an array of consulting services and resources.  

With emergency funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, MEP Centers like Manufacturing Works helped manufacturers — and some makerspaces — across the country pivot to produce PPE to help meet critical needs during the pandemic. 

MEP experts help Phorge lay the groundwork for successful grant applications 

Manufacturing Works assisted Phorge throughout the entire grant application process. Its experts identified funding sources, knew what was needed for successful applications, and arranged a meeting with the Homeland Security County Coordinators to lay the groundwork. Manufacturing Works designed a questionnaire and helped Phorge distribute it to applicable organizations to document needs, as required for the grants. Manufacturing Works also created a tracking and distribution system for quality control across the makerspaces collaborating with Phorge. That way, if any defects occurred, the order could be traced back to the makerspace where it was made and the problem fixed at the source. 

The MEP center’s statewide relationships help seal the deals 

With proper documentation, quality control and an estimated budget, it was time for Phorge to apply for the grants. Advisers at Manufacturing Works drew on their statewide relationships to arrange meetings that eased Phorge’s way through the next steps. They set up a special meeting with the city of Sheridan, and the city’s vote paved the way for a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG). The CDBG application required hosting by a state governing body, and Manufacturing Works’ strong relationship with the Wyoming Business Council made all the difference. The council held an emergency vote and quickly approved the CDBG grant for Phorge. Manufacturing Works then leveraged additional statewide relationships to put the right people in the room for a Community Foundation Grant. In all, with guidance from Manufacturing Works, Phorge received a $48,000 Community Development Block Grant and an additional $17,000 Community Foundation Grant to make PPE needed across the state. 

“Manufacturing Works figured out exactly what we needed and didn’t hesitate to jump in and make it happen! Our COVID-19 efforts were grown significantly when they jumped on board.” 
    — Spencer Kuzara, Phorge Makerspace Director