New maker space on the horizon in Springfield

Roy Boomershine spent years of his career teaching students in Kalamazoo, Michigan, hands-on skills, including screen printing, woodworking, and drafting. 

But as schools shifted away from education in specialized skills in favor of technological advancements and college-driven paths, Boomershine's position was cut, and he had to find another path. 

With children in both Dayton and Columbus, Roy and his wife Carla moved to Springfield to be midway between family, and Roy sought out work. Through the years he's worked with kids through the Clark County Department of Job and Family Services’ Inside Out program, at Juvenile Detention and at Oesterlen Youth Services. 

And about four years ago, the Boomershines purchased a building - 411 E. Main St., near Schuler's Bakery - and started fixing it up into a hands-on learning space. 

"We got this building and started putting it together and needed to develop some kind of income," Roy says. "And, so we started working with people through Developmental Disabilities (of Clark County)."

When people come through the doors of the Roger E. Boomershine Skills Center, they can be sure that Roy will work to help them learn the ropes of screen printing or woodworking, or that Carla will share her knowledge of sewing and quilting. 

But, Roy couldn't shake the feeling of wanting to grow the center into something more - a maker space that the whole community could benefit from. 

Around the same time, Springfield-native Dwaine Mathews says he felt a calling to get involved with a maker space. While looking into options, Mathews happened upon the Boomershine's setup, and he and the couple decided to join forces to work toward a bigger goal.

"We're looking to bring people in who have a similar vision to help the community," says Mathews, whose fulltime job is in cyber security at Wright Patterson Air Force Base. 

A maker space is a place where people can try something or learn a skill they think they might be interested in, Roy says. 

"I used to tell guys at school - you may really like this, or you may learn it's not for you," he says. 

The current space includes a rotating screen printing machine, a variety of woodworking tools and equipment, and multiple sewing machines and quilting supplies. There is also room for additional equipment to be added and dedicated spaces to grow in the areas of pottery, jewelry making, prototyping, welding, and a robotics/tech lab.

"Anything we have room for and can get that the community wants, we want to provide," Mathews says. "Eventually, we will be offering memberships to the public, classes, and other activities, like date nights."

The Boomershines and Mathews took their dreams to Springfield's Small Business Development Center (SBDC) for coaching on how to turn them into a reality.

They want the space to provide hands-on training and problem-solving support for people trying to learn a skill or for people wanting to take the leap into entrepreneurship. 

"I see a lot of small businesses being birthed from this maker space. The two biggest things that keep an aspiring entrepreneur on the sideline are the lack of money to pay for expensive startup costs and not having a mentor to teach them how to grow into their craft," says Rob Alexander, executive director of Springfield's SBDC. "This place addresses both of these obstacles."

With the maker space, someone considering a start-up can test out their craft and hone their skills with only the cost of a membership fee, and if they change their mind, they won't have invested in any major purchases. 

Mathews says another advantage to the space is the endless options for makers to find ways to collaborate, problem solve together, and possibly even create joint ventures. 

Additionally, the space would be made available to students looking to gain skills that used to be taught in former in-school classes, like shop or home economics, Roy says.

"If you want to build something, we can show you how to do that. We want to expose kids to that, and even if you're college-bound, you can benefit," Mathews says. "If you're not college-bound, it could give some direction to move into skilled trade options. 

"We want to partner with manufacturers and skilled trade companies in Springfield to provide a steady flow of workers, because there is a shortage there."

With the financial support and buy-in of partners in local businesses and organizations, Mathews says the goal will be to have the maker space updated to add the new, needed equipment within about nine months. 

"I think if we get enough of the right people involved, that's a feasible time frame," he says. 

For the first phase within the current facility, the center will need about $20,000 in financial support to purchase the equipment needed for handicrafts - such as jewelry making tools - pottery, prototyping and welding. Anyone interested in learning more about or supporting the venture can contact Roy at 269-352-7030 or Dwaine at 937-215-9083. 

The team also has dreams of a future second phase that would include a commercial kitchen, metal shop, machine shop, blacksmith shop, production studio, and classroom space. But, that step would require additional funding and additional building space at either their current location or a new location. 

On Thursday, March 24, some local investors and makers were invited to tour the space to see the potential. They heard more about opportunities for growing the current skill center with the plans the Boomershines and Mathews created with the support of the SBDC. 

During the event, Alexander shared with attendees that Springfield used to have the second largest factory in the world, adding that all big companies start off as small companies at first. 

"Springfield was built on the backs of makers and tinkerers," he says. "We believe that an investment in our community's makers can only add fuel to the growth that Springfield is experiencing."

Read more articles by Natalie Driscoll.