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Etsy Wants to Be the Rust Belt's New Factory

Etsy Wants to Be the Rust Belt's New Factory
Courtesy Bill Benson

Since Bill Benson retired as a cabinetmaker, he’s tried to sell custom frames, shelves, and other furnishings built with lumber salvaged from old barns. What he earns selling at flea markets and to acquaintances isn’t enough to cover the $650 monthly rent on his workshop. “All my life,” he says, “I could make anything except money.”

Etsy wants to change that. The online craft marketplace last week started classes to teach business skills in Rockford, Ill., where Benson, 66, lives in public housing. He and eight other residents—from jewelers to printmakers—are learning how to set up small businesses and create online stores from a Rockford teacher and longtime Etsy seller. The company is expanding the free program with three classes in New York City starting this week and hopes to spread it to other cities soon.