14 June 2012
Kelley Roy wanted to create a place where many ideas, businesses, projects, services, and pure, wild brainstorms could thrive and multiply.
Like every entrepreneur, Kelley Roy saw a gap between reality and the way things should be. Unlike most, her idea didn't revolve around a single business idea or product. She wanted to create a place where many ideas, businesses, projects, services, and pure, wild brainstorms could thrive and multiply.
Kelley had been working with a small events space called Art Department, tucked next to an artisan vodka distillery in Portland's light-industrial Central Eastside. The neighborhood is an emerging focal point of the city's growing culture of craft and creative enterprise. In the thick of one of the country's most exciting scenes for hands-on production and small-scale industry, Kelley perceived both a need and an opportunity.
"We realized there was pent-up demand for raw, flexible creative space," she says, "and a hunger for learning new skills."
Soon--after a little conceptual work and research on other cities and a visit to a community-focused lender--this insight became reality: ADX, an instantly popular shared workshop, manufacturing facility, and communal clubhouse in the Central Eastside's heart. The idea is actually quite simple. ADX is a membership-based facility, where membership means access to 10,000 square feet of productive space, a wide range of equipment, and a place within a beehive-like community of people who want to make stuff.
You could call ADX the country club of the Maker Era, except the place is not about leisure, but about fostering a fun and industrious creative life.
"Our secret sauce is the combination of space, tools, and professional resources," Kelley says. "People can come together, rub elbows, and create new opportunities. Tools mean the equipment people cannot afford to buy on their own but need in order to be successful. And professional resources--most creatives don't know a lick about running a business or marketing. We help people take themselves seriously while having fun as a community."
Indeed, ADX embodies the old dream of Stewart Brand and the 1960s Whole Earth Catalog: "access to tools." The facility includes a full-scale woodshop with a router and drill press; a metal shop outfitted with a plasma cutter, lathe, and many different saws; 3D printing equipment; and a "factory floor" where members can rent larger project spaces by the square foot. An on-site co-working office, meanwhile, hosts a collection of artists, designers, and other creative professionals. A flexible events venue makes possible a steady cadence of classes and social gatherings.
ADX opened last year, and the concept immediately caught fire among Portland's rising class of self-made producers. Kelley and her team offer several different levels of membership, from a basic $25 monthly "basic" rate that individuals can customize by buying added shop time to corporate memberships whole organizations can use. The varied structure helped membership explode: at last count, ADX boasted about 400 members.
Somewhat to her surprise, Kelley notes that "industry" memberships constitute ADX's fastest-growing category: whole existing companies or corporate divisions that find new opportunities in the facility's shared space and tools. "I think people like getting out of their typical work environments," she says. "Ultimately, I think they can offer clients more services." ADX's industry list includes some of Portland's heavy-hitters: ad agency Wieden + Kennedy, Nike's Action Sports group, and the acclaimed branding and creative agency OMFGCo., among others.
The results have been striking in quality, range, and ambition. A racy, retro-styled motorized bicycle went from concept to slick prototype. A photographer who specializes in a historic processing technique that relies on corrosive chemicals is now building her own equipment. The resident creative workers are developing branding for a country-music documentary. A typical spring day might see a high-quality knife-making class, a gathering of robot-builders, or a poetry reading.
Meanwhile, the community of creative individuals that has rallied around ADX remains the project's heart. Members throw a weekly baked-potato feed, and casual connections made on the shop floor spawn new projects all the time.
For Kelley, as gratifying as it is to see her concept become thriving reality, ADX's success only suggests an even busier future. The facility already receives requests for custom projects from non-members, and she foresees building a "made in Portland" brand around ADX--and ultimately, exporting Portland's culture of quality craft in the same way the city's food scene has gained national prominence. Some version of those developments would represent the real fruition of ADX: a social-industrial vision of engaged, connected people who have what they need to get stuff done.
"Industrious people love to be around industrious people," Kelley says. "We are putting talented people to work and training people for a new local manufacturing economy."
Photographs by Nicole Clemetson and courtesy of ADX Portland.