Western North Carolina has a long and proud heritage in the production of textiles and furniture, but the Regional manufacturing industry has been hit hard by automation and outsourcing. The Industrial Commons is revitalizing the manufacturing tradition through the Carolina Textile District, a multi-state network of small and medium-sized textile and apparel manufacturers based in Morganton, North Carolina. With ARC support, the Carolina Textile District is building a value chain network that benefits textile producers across the Region by hosting skill-building workshops for new and existing businesses, building important relationships within the industry, piloting a workforce training program, and more. The Industrial Commons works with over 50 small firms in Western North Carolina and across the rural southeast to build a sustainable, equitable rural manufacturing sector.
Earlier this month, Molly Hemstreet and Sara Chester, co-Directors of the Industrial Commons, were awarded a coveted J.M.K. Innovation Prize for their vision for the Region’s manufacturing industry. The J.M.K Innovation Prize “focuses especially on new ideas piloted or prototyped by dynamic visionaries at a stage when they typically struggle to acquire seed funding. This year, applicants responded to rapidly shifting challenges in communities across America through efforts that promise profound social impacts.” The Prize means Industrial Commons will receive a $175,000 award and technical assistance over the course of three years to further their impact and share their model with other organizations and across sectors. According to Hemstreet and Chester, “The Industrial Commons is rebuilding a diverse working class. We lead and implement a new vision for labor organizing in rural, industrial work. We encourage and equip a new generation of workers to build pride, skill, and ownership in manufacturing. This preserves our heritage industries and roots previously extracted wealth in the hands of our communities through local ownership and control.”