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Etsy: Putting America to Work One Knitted Potholder at a Time

Kevin Chupka
Executive Producer/Writer

E-commerce site Etsy has quickly emerged as a top marketplace for vintage and handmade goods. A global love of crafts led Etsy to sell more than $895 million in merchandise in 2012. The site sports 30 million members across 200 countries selling 18 million different items.

Earlier this year the company’s reputation took a hit with some users when they began letting sellers use larger scale manufacturers to produce goods. But Etsy seems to have bounced back from any negativity they experienced after the policy change and in September launched a new program to both expand Etsy's reach and help a faltering city grappling with skyrocketing unemployment: Rockford, IL.

This "craft entrepeneurship program" brings local etsy employees together with high school and college students as well as adult education participants and teaches them how to craft their skills, make products, build a business and earn money.

Breakout sat down with Etsy's CEO Chad Dickerson and Rockford's Mayor, Larry Morrissey to learn more about the program. "Larry’s vision as the mayor is really strong and it really dovetails with what we’re trying to do at Etsy which is build this worldwide platform which delivers benefits to communities like Rockford," Dickerson told us, adding, "The idea is that you can create a social good while you’re making a profit."

"I had been really compelled to help our struggling community," Mayor Morrissey says, "and one of the biggest challenges I saw both in the traditional K-12 system as well as with adult learners was a lack of entrepreneurship...So I inquired of Etsy, would they be interested in trying to build something together?"

The duo has their work cut out for them. Forbes magazine ranked Rockford America’s third “most miserable city” behind Detroit and Flint, Michigan. Once a thriving manufacturing center, many factories left in the early 1990’s and the city’s unemployment rate soared.

"I think we have a great chance to be on the cutting edge of what the next thing is," says Morrissey. "We’re really taking advantage of the leverage of a lot of smart productive Americans to take back control of our own communities."

If the project succeeds in Rockford Dickerson hopes to scale it up significantly and has already launched a similar program in New York Ciity.

"In my mind there’s no reason it can’t be rolled out to a thousand cities," he says, "because it’s very simple, all you need is access to the internet."