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Village Workshop is the place where makers’ dreams come true
Village Workshop is the brainchild of Brian Donovan, who enlisted Dennis Engerer and Chris McDonald – fellow entrepreneurs and Northville residents – to become partners on this project. The trio renovated a historic warehouse at 455 E. Cady Street in a smart blend of old and new. They installed $1 million worth of equipment, including computer-aided mills, drills and saws; CNC plasma cutter; 3D laser printer; and a powder coating station.
Open since March 2015, the Village Workshop draws artisans, entrepreneurs, engineers, homemakers, students and others to its intriguing, intelligent and inspirational work space.
“This space is a place to play, make a lot of noise, make some dust and create a really cool project,” co-owner Donovan said. “One of our passions here is to help entrepreneurs and budding businesses grow.”
Mike Wagner exemplifies what Village Workshop embodies. He was working at a company that recycles spent ammunition cartridges and the owner’s process was to manually sort and clean the cartridges. Wagner saw value in automating the process. He came to Village Workshop to use the machinery and tooling to build a prototype. After trial and error, he developed a machine that worked. It is now used by his “former” employer and Wagner has also started a company that manufactures the machines for the ammunition reloading industry.
Village Workshop not only encourages entrepreneurship, the owners actively support it by offering courses on how to use the equipment and tools. Shop manager Andy Romes is a resource for the site’s tools and technology. When someone hits a speed bump in their product design or development, the staff and members engage in problem solving.
On the day of my visit, makers tossed around ideas about how to improve processes at a snack bar over sandwiches and coffee (made on site) while a cook sautéed onions and garlic in an oversize pan. The mouth-watering aroma of the fragrant vegetables wafted through the first floor, on par with a gourmet restaurant. (She was preparing ingredients for a caterer who rents the building’s kitchen space.)
The workshop ignites all of the senses. Large windows let in pleasing natural lighting. The sounds of drills and saws from the industrial workshop on the first floor add an energetic buzz, while the soft whirring from industrial-grade sewing machines and a long-armed, $20,000 embroidery machine emanate from the second floor.
This synergy of ideas and hands-on production is just what the owners of Village Workshop had in mind when they saw the old Belanger building at the east edge of town. They marveled at the open space of 24,000 ft2 split among three floors. It was already industrial looking – with wood floors, brick interior walls, and metal railings on the stairwells – reflecting the times when Northville was a player in manufacturing. Being near downtown Northville, it was ideal for tapping into the collaborative mindset of the community.
The building has office space as well. The entire third floor (2,690 ft2) is available for lease, since the last tenant outgrew the space. For those who want a simple work station, access to machinery, free wi-fi and a chance to brainstorm with others, there are COWs for rent at $250 a month. These steel-cased “cubicles on wheels” appeal to entrepreneurs and can be used as satellite officers for professionals who design or develop products. The COWs are portable and lock when not in use.
“The idea of people coming in here and working on their projects…whether for personal use, business, or as an enhancement for their business … was our goal from day one,” said Engerer. “They can make a sample of their product before making hundreds or thousands.”
Just about any type of product can be made at the Village Workshop. A sampling of about 30 objects – including gears, clocks and laser-cut cases – are displayed on open shelves in the lobby space.
Caterer Mary Spencer, of “Taste, a cook’s place,” hosts presentation cooking classes where she shows guests her techniques while preparing their meals in a group setting – it’s both a learning and dining experience. Other cooks host “pop-up” events there.
Tracey Wormsbacher runs day-to-day operations for the Village Workshop. She manages memberships, coordinates events on-site for nonprofits and business groups, and handles publicity and marketing.
Village Workshop is a membership-based business that can accommodate 1,000 members, who pay $99 per month. It also offers classes to adults and students. Northville High School engineering students have a weekly, hands-on class there. Soon, there will be a maker’s club for younger students.
Village Workshop is one of about 10 makers’ spaces in southeast Michigan and one of an estimated 3,000 worldwide. “We’re thrilled about the response from the immediate and surrounding communities,” said Wormsbacher. “Our geographical pull is about 20 miles.”
Wormsbacher would like to see the workshop’s resources and outreach efforts spark the training of more skilled trades to fill gaps in job openings. “I know company owners who work in skilled trades and have so much work they have to turn it down,” she said. “They can’t find people to hire as welders, lathe operators, and carpenters.”