Morganton, North Carolina, was once synonymous with American textile and furniture manufacturing, but large corporations bought locally-owned businesses and today, median household income is 23% lower than the US average and the poverty rate is 20% higher than the national average. Since 2015, building on the furniture and textile sector as 'a base for the creation of this new way of doing things', The Industrial Commons has launched five cooperative businesses that employ more than 100 workers, and plans to grow that to 75 businesses by 2025. Inspired by existing cooperatives in Mondragon, Spain, and Emilia-Romagna, Italy, the workers are the managers, owners, decision-makers, and community leaders. Says TIC co-executive director Sara Chester: “There is buy-in to the idea that we’re building something bigger than ourselves, and that the opportunity, really, is to create this thing that we’re shepherding into the future, versus “me, me, me” and “What can I get out of this?” Sara says she and co-executive director Molly Hemstreet are realistic about the challenges and opportunities because they grew up in Morganton.

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