Despite all the publicity about the supposed demise of manufacturing, there is a new energy springing up around the country in the form of so-called “maker spaces” that serve as incubators for manufacturing startups and artisans. Fort Houston is one such center serving the Nashville, Tenn., area, and it recently got a big boost from machinery manufacturer JET.

Based nearby in LaVergne, Tenn., JET had been looking for ways to encourage younger people in woodworking. “We want a cooperative relationship with a younger demographic,” says Joan Duvall, director of product management for JET and Powermatic, which are both brands of Walter Meier Inc. So, the company got in touch with the founders of Fort Houston and donated some $35,000 in woodworking machinery. It’s basically an entire woodshop, complete with 24 essential woodworking machines, including table saws, band saw, jointer, planer, drum sander, miter saw, and more.

“We believe that reaching out to Fort Houston is a sound investment in the woodworking industry’s future, as well as an opportunity for community betterment,” says Duvall. “Working directly with young, creative woodworkers, experienced artisans and enthusiasts also helps us maintain a fresh perspective on end-users’ needs and preferences.”

Fort Houston is located on the former site of a 100-year-old hosiery factory at 500 Houston Street in the heart of Nashville’s Wedgewood-Houston art district. The 10,000 square foot workspace is open to members, who have access to the woodshop, mechanical shop and print shop, as well as desk space and storage. Membership rates run on a sliding scale based on what services and facilities the member uses. Fees start at $75 per month and include discounts on classes and other perks. Non-members also can take advantage of classes on such diverse subjects as 3D modeling, printing and a boot camp for creative entrepreneurs.

Daniel Heering, a co-founder of Fort Houston, says the facility grew out of mobile art displays done in the Nashville area in 2011. With a current roster of 42 members, the facility is member based and member supported. Many members share their skills by teaching, and some 15 classes are offered each month.

Nate Akey, 24, is a good example of a Fort Houston member. He originally set his sights on a career as a registered nurse, but once he got his certification and started on the job, he says it wasn’t what he thought it would be. He gravitated to a new career as a furniture artisan. His budding company called 5 String Furniture (www.fivestringfurniture.com) has started making furniture and furnishings for a number of restaurants, stores and a brewing company in the area. He relies almost entirely on the equipment and facilities at Fort Houston, allowing him a level of production and equipment his young business could not otherwise afford. He recently upgraded his membership to allow an assistant.

You can learn more about Fort Houston by visiting their website at www.forthouston.com.

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