The founder of Under Armour has big plans for 'made in the USA'

In honor of Small Business Week, Inc. reporters deployed to several cities where they spent one day talking to owners and entrepreneurs in a particular sector about their challenges.

Kevin Plank made a fortune from manufacturing. Now he wants to seed his adopted hometown of Baltimore with manufacturers, replacing urban blight with a city of makers.

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Plank, who grew up in suburban Washington, relocated his athletic apparel business, Under Armour, to Baltimore in 1998, where he grew it into a public company with 2016 revenues approaching $5 billion. Once a manufacturing hub, Baltimore over the decades has bled well-paying jobs with the loss of companies like Bethlehem Steel and Proctor & Gamble. Although Under Armour manufactures overseas, Plank believes new technologies and processes can make Made-in-the-USA economically viable again. He is now experimenting with local manufacturing at Under Armour. And he is building an ecosystem of startup manufacturers engaged in the same grand experiment.

The focal point of that experiment resides in Port Covington, a south Baltimore neighborhood where Plank Industries--which manages the entrepreneur's non-Under Armour ventures--is building a new corporate campus and expansive mixed-use development. It is a 133,000-square-foot converted bus depot, prosaically dubbed City Garage. The space, which opened last year, encapsulates the manufacturing journey from inventor to business to industry. "We are looking at how a city like Baltimore, which once competed on manufacturing, can get that back," says Demian Costa, managing partner of Sagamore Ventures, Plank's investment arm. "And in what form does it come back?"

City Garage is divided into three sections. First is the Foundery, a sprawling maker space where members (the monthly fee is $150, with 50 percent discounts for students, disabled veterans, and others) have access to classes and tools for work in metal, wood, glass, textiles, and other materials. "This is where the 22-year-old football player walks through the front door and can turn any idea on the back of a napkin into reality," says Costa.

If the 22-year-old-football player is key to the Foundery's revenue model, a different demographic is key to its mission. The Foundery's nonprofit side provides workforce-development for a population with high rates of poverty and incarceration. The idea is to bridge the skills gap that leaves many of Baltimore's small-to-midsize manufacturers persistently short-staffed, even when unemployment is high.

The Foundery is also meant to inspire nascent entrepreneurs. Already a few members have built prototypes--for example, of a device that makes work on a loading-dock easier--and are running very-small-batch manufacturing out of the space. Eventually, some inventors may move their operations next door, to Main Street, City Garage's unconventional incubator.

Main Street resides along the wide corridor where buses drove in and out during the structure's depot days. Currently 15 companies are housed there, all of which make physical products, such as skateboards, glass fixtures, and high-end luggage. (Not all production takes place at the Garage.) One resident, Ready Robotics, which makes industrial robots, was co-founded by Drew Greenblatt, CEO of Marlin Steel, a Baltimore maker of industrial steel baskets. That collaboration--the robots operate in Marlin's factory, proving the concept while improving Marlin's agility--is an example of the synthesis Plank Industries hopes to foster between City Garage startups and Baltimore's older manufacturing base.

Plank Industries invests in most of the startups and advises them on matters financial, strategic, creative, and operational. Unlike most incubators there is no expectation of quick graduation. "A company that is cool and contributes to the community might be there for a very long time," says Tom Geddes, CEO of Plank Industries. "Another might scale to have too many people, and we'd say you've got to find another space." (The only business to leave so far is Plank's whiskey company, which was parked in the Garage while a distillery was under construction.)

Main Street welcomes makers-at-heart who are content to stay small. But "we really hope to build the next Under Armour," says Costa.

City Garage's third section is the Lighthouse, which unlike the other two is a division of Under Armour. The Lighthouse is an innovation center with the long-range goal of bringing apparel manufacturing back to the U.S.

City Garage is just part of Plank's investment in Baltimore, which also includes housing, retail, a hotel, and a water-taxi service. The consideration of transportation and workforce development suggests a more balanced approach to urban reinvention than, for example, Tony Hseih's Las Vegas venture, which largely relied on big ideas and a creative culture to gain traction. "There are cities in the United States where all you really do need to do is put capital and entrepreneurs together and let the market take care of it," says Geddes. "But there are many other cities--Baltimore included--where if you are going to have a real impact on the residents of the city, you need to take the next step."

Having set things in motion, Plank himself is largely hands-off with the ambitious project that is unfolding around him. Geddes says Plank is "laser-focused" on Under Armour, which is having a rocky year, with its stock price hurt by slowing growth and its founder taking fire for some pro-Trump comments.

With its emphasis on aspiration and work, Plank's vision for the city echoes the underdog strategy that helped make Under Armour a success. "Kevin is a brand guy," says Geddes. "He wants to do things that will have a positive impact on the brand of the City of Baltimore."

RELATED: Companies that use colors in their logos to influence you

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Companies that use colors in their logos to influence you
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Companies that use colors in their logos to influence you

McDonald's

McDonald's uses red because it's seen as an energizing and stands out easily. It's even thought the color stimulates hunger, which may be why a number of other fast food brands use the color.

Red is also often used to signal a sale, so many brands will use it in combination with a softer color like white or yellow to convey the properties of red without risking the perception the brand may be going out of business.

(Photo by NurPhoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Subway

With the use of green, which is often used to signal health and restoration, Subway looks to convey the values of freshness which it has put at the core of its brand.

Yellow is also another color that can easily be spotted from far away and draw consumers to its restaurants.

 REUTERS/Carlo Allegri 

Baskin Robbins

Blue and pink are often combined to promote sugary products since pink signals sweetness and playfulness.

Carol Austin, VP of marketing for the brand told CNBC the logo is "meant to convey the fun and energy of the Baskin-Robbins brand."

The logo also has a hidden message: The pink 31 in the logo stands for each day in the month that consumers can discover a new flavor.

Photo Credit: Getty 

United Airlines

Blue is used to signal trustworthiness, often demanded by consumers from airlines.

It's also associated with reliability and loyalty, which is why law enforcement uniforms are blue.

 REUTERS/Frank Polich 

 British Airways

British Airways keeps the values of trustworthiness and reliability brands can get from using blue, but adds in red, signaling warmth and comfort.

The current logo was originally designed in 1997 and hasn't changed since.

 (Photo by John Phillips/UK Press via Getty Images)

 Lufthansa

Like many other airlines, Lufthansa uses blue but it's one of the few to add yellow, which stands for happiness and optimism.

The visual identity was introduced by the German graphic designer Olt Aicher and was considered one of the most successful rebrands of the 20th century. But Aicher himself never considered the design as mature, according to Disegno.

REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer

Nokia

The color blue is often used by telecoms companies because it conveys clarity and security.

The current Nokia logo has been in place ever since it moved to telecommunications equipment — before that it was a paper mill company.

 REUTERS/Paul Hanna

Qualcomm

Qualcomm is a pioneer of many technologies found in smartphones today.

The chips it produces are used by the majority of smartphone brands, including Apple, Samsung, and LG among many others. The black in the logo signals strength and security, both essential to any smartphone manufacturer.

REUTERS/Albert Gea/File Photo 

Chanel

Chanel was the pioneer of the famous "little black dress" so it's only natural for the color black to be a core part of the brand's identity.

Black is considered to be a very fashionable color and stands for the sophistication in the retail world.

REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

Vans

The use of black to signal elegance and red for passion falls in line with Vans' values of enabling people to do what they love.

The brand has recently started to look to appeal to audiences outside of skateboarding and its latest campaign is all about people following their creative passions.

Photo Credit: Vans

Hermes

Orange is thought to exude extroversion and confidence, which Hermes has every right to as the world's second most valuable luxury brand.

The brand reportedly chose the color orange out of necessity: It was the color of the only paperboard available to the company during the Second World War.

REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer/File Photo

Toyota

The different shades of silver often used in the automobile industry stand for quality and workmanship.

The Toyota logo took three years to design and is meant to be recognized head-on and in a rear view mirror. The two inner circles represent the relationship between the customer and the brand living together in the world, which is depicted by the bigger circle around them.

REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Audi

The red Audi script in the logo is meant to stand for masculinity of the brand and a love for driving.

While much can be read into the four rings logo, the reasoning behind it is practical: Audi was one of four car companies that merged in 1932. The logo of the new company became all four logos in circles linked together. The individual brands' logos were eventually dropped, leaving only the four rings.

(Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

 Volkswagen

With the blue in its logo, Volkswagen wants to convey the values that German cars have become known for: Reliability and consistency.

It also fits with the name of the brand, which translates to "car for the people."

 (Photo by Harold Cunningham/Getty Images)

The Range

The British improvement store chain decided to go with blue in its logo to help customers relax before taking on a big DIY project.

Photo Credit: The Range

 The Home Depot

Orange is considered a youthful color, which evokes a feeling of excitement and fun.

The brightness of the color makes it easy to spot a Home Depot from far away.

 (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

Screwfix

Screwfix is the biggest British store in the country catering to professional handymen.

It uses red, which is thought to raise the heart rate and physically motivate people, in Screwfix's case, to get to work on construction projects.

Photo: ScrewFix

Pfizer

Medical companies will often turn to blue because it stands for cleanliness and health.

The oval shape of Pfizer's logo, which was created in 1987, is meant to be similar to that of a medical pill.

Photographer: Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

GlaxoSmithKline

GSK is a recently created company, formed out of a merger of two British pharmaceutical companies.

This edition of the logo was created in 2014, but the color orange has always been a part of the company's branding. The color is often associated with feelings of happiness and confidence.

REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo

Merck

The American pharma company, one of the largest in the world, has gone through multiple editions of its branding. The green logo is associated with feelings of health and healing.

REUTERS/Mike Blake

 U.S. Postal Service

Blue is considered a color that promotes feelings of trustworthiness and security.

The eagle in the USPS logo was always a part of the brand, but it's only since 1993 that the current "sonic eagle" has been on mail delivery trucks.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Royal Mail delivery

(Photo credit should read JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images)

 TNT Post

The Dutch parcel delivery company is one of the biggest in the world, with a presence in 61 countries and over $7 billion in sales in 2015.

The firm was acquired by FedEx in 2016. It used the color orange to signal its affordability to customers.

 (Photo by Ben A. Pruchnie/Getty Images)

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