Charles Allen

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Under a bill Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen plans to introduce today, local businesses and “makers” would be able to put an official D.C. logo on their products to signify that the items were made in part or entirely within the boundaries of the District.

The “Made in DC” bill would grant the District Department of Small and Local Business Development authority to create a city-wide brand that D.C.-based companies could become certified for—free of charge—for a three-year period. The brand, Allen says, would allow District entrepreneurs to show their local pride and potentially open new lines of business; for example, at D.C. conventions and events. Allen adds that other jurisdictions like Chicago and Philadelphia already have similar programs that help promote local entrepreneurs.

“There’s a reason people want mambo sauce—because it’s a D.C. experience,” Allen explains. “Then, of course, the other reason we’re doing this is not just because [people say], ‘Hey, isn’t it nice to drink a beer with the D.C. flag on it, or get a bottle of gin that’s made in D.C.’ It’s really about all these jobs that get created: The maker economy is a tremendous part of our local economy and will get bigger.”

As drafted, the legislation would apply to products “created, manufactured, or assembled” in the District—a provision that’s important, Allen says by way of example, because it’s not as if the hops in D.C. Brau beer are themselves produced locally. The councilmember adds that the law would apply to the things people make in their homes and sell online or in physical markets as well, such as jewelry and craft goods, which could help economically disadvantaged residents. The law could also help businesses “spin out” of incubators like Union Kitchen; it could even apply to locally produced music (on albums, for example), according to Allen staffer Nichole Opkins.

While the bill focuses on DSLBD as the lead agency, Allen says other partners like the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, and Events DC could use it to market and advertise local products. Logos would not be compulsory, and eligibility would be determined by whether a business-entity itself were located in the District.

The bill would arguably boost brand awareness of local products among the millions of tourists who visit D.C. annually, helping companies to grow. DSLBD would “monitor the use of the brand in order to identify and stop” its unauthorized use as well as maintain a webpage of every Made in DC product, including contact information, under the bill. (The “logo” refers to the physical marker itself, while “brand” refers to the full concept and program, Opkins clarifies.)

“Having a logo is nice, but it’s absolutely meaningless unless there’s a value to that logo,” Allen admits. “I don’t think there’ll be anyone who’s against this, but I think there are reasonable concerns to say, ‘Do we mean well but create something that’s all of a sudden this really big administrative burden, or involves an onerous certification process, or is an empty gesture?’ Those are concerns I have too.”

As for whether the official logos would bolster D.C.’s longstanding fight to become a state, says Allen: “It certainly won’t hurt the cause.”

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Photo by Darrow Montgomery