By Emily Nonko.
Kate Sofis characterizes her childhood taking place in “a kind of dying rust belt city, Buffalo, New York, in the ‘70s.” Growing up, she witnessed unemployment rise within her family as the city’s main employers, General Motors and Bethlehem Steel, closed up shop. “I had this sort of PTSD seeing that as a kid,” Sofis says. “You would have thought it would have driven me as far away from manufacturing as possible.”
It didn’t. Sofis is the founding executive director of SFMade, a non-profit launched in 2010 to support local manufacturing in San Francisco. Despite commercial rent control being prohibited by California law, she has spearheaded an initiative to build affordable commercial space in San Francisco by borrowing from the affordable housing playbook.
As a result of her efforts — a complex, several-year process to change zoning and secure funding — this week SFMade will officially open the Manufacturing Foundry at 150 Hooper, a 50,000-square-foot multi-tenant, manufacturing space owned by the non-profit.
Sofis left a career in the computer manufacturing industry in the midst of the dotcom recession, wanting to figure out “how to remove barriers to growth for native manufacturers.” At the time, she says, “people thought manufacturing in the U.S. was done.”