Good design takes many forms . . . and can present itself in many different ways and places, as Tracy Smith shows us.
This story was originally broadcast on May 18, 2014.
You might not think of Nashville as a sidewalk surfing mecca, but some of the best skateboards are made right in Music City. At Salemtown Board Company, 28-year-old Will Anderson can turn a slab of middle Tennessee oak into a world-class ride.
But this wasn't exactly the career he had in mind.
Anderson grew up surfing in Florida, and started down the path to be a social worker.
"My undergrad was philosophy," he said. "My master's degree was a masters in divinity. And now all my clothes are stained with paint and covered with sawdust."
He grew up skateboarding in central Florida, but Anderson was drawn to a life as a social worker.
"I tell my fiance all the time that all I'm really qualified to do is write a blog that nobody reads," he said.
Now, he's building the skateboards everybody wants -- each one made entirely by hand, from the carefully-applied stain, to the custom paint job, to the Salemtown "S" branded into the wood.
Smith asked, "What do you want people to think when they see these boards?"
"I'm selling July in every month," Anderson replied. "I'm selling the beach in any state. I'm selling summer year 'round, and the same joy that I get from making and riding these boards, I feel like that's what I'm selling."
And the skating public is buying, at around $200 a piece.
But making a great board isn't even the real reason this place exists.
Salemtown is a tiny neighborhood north of downtown Nashville with a tough reputation.
"Up until probably about a year ago, the highest source of income in this zip code was the government," he said -- meaning people receiving welfare.
Anderson and a friend, Jason Henley, started the company two years ago as a way to teach neighborhood kids about discipline and dedication: the tools that will help them climb higher later in life.
It's not so much about shaping boards, he says, as shaping lives.
"It's easy to give away money or food," said Anderson (left). "You know, it's easy to give away school supplies. It's a lot harder to teach. I can't think of something that is better to give these young men than an opportunity not just to work, but an opportunity to learn to work."
So he hired Brandon Smith and Kendreis Smith.
"If I wasn't doing this, really I don't know what I'd be doing," said Kendreis.
The guys get a paycheck well above minimum wage, and something maybe even more valuable:
"It doesn't matter where you grow up, it doesn't matter what your family situation is," he said. "That skill, that ability to have pride in good work -- that is universally applicable."
Kendreis said working at the company was not just about money: "When you have a job that you really like --"
"With a good boss," interjected Brandon.
"-- it doesn't seem like a job," Kendreis said. "It's just having fun."
Will Anderson never thought he could change the world with a skateboard company. He still doesn't. But he thinks Brandon and Kendreis just might.
Smith asked Anderson, "You only have two employees, two young guys -- how much of a difference can you make?"
"If they're able to grow up to be men that love their families and love their communities, and we produced two of those, that's worth it."
For more info: