Industrial Commons

The Industrial Commons, a Morganton-based nonprofit organization, has been awarded a $1 million grant from The Rockefeller Foundation and Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

Those organizations announced in a release Tuesday that The Industrial Commons was one of 10 recipients across nine states and Puerto Rico in the Communities Thrive Challenge, which is an effort to expand economic opportunity for low-income and financially insecure people and communities across the country.

The Industrial Commons was selected because it demonstrated success and potential for future impact, according to the release.

The nonprofit provides resources and support to firms, networks and workers in industrial western North Carolina, the release said. It aims to improve livelihoods and root wealth in communities. The Industrial Commons operates several interconnected social enterprises and its mission is to ensure industrial businesses are revitalized and sustainable, work is rooted and meaningful, and workers live good, dignified lives.

The multiyear investment into The Industrial Commons is designed to scale the organization’s impact, according to the release. Funds are allocated to support existing programs, launch two new enterprises, contribute to the construction of a manufacturing campus and strengthen the organization's social enterprise, fee-for service model.

“We’re honored by this award,” said Molly Hemstreet, cofounder and co-executive director of The Industrial Commons and founder of Opportunity Threads, a worker-owned textile facility in Morganton, in the release. “It is evidence of the incredible support we have received from key allies, mentors and partner organizations. We’re thankful for their support and look forward to deepening our work together. We hope this prize gives us more opportunities to lift up worker voices from the plant floor and, together, continue to make great places to work in western North Carolina.”

The Industrial Commons was announced as one of 20 grant finalists in September. The Communities Thrive Challenge, which launched in April, received 1,826 applications that spanned all 50 states, Washington D.C., and four U.S. territories, according to the release. Applications were evaluated based on four main criteria. They included impact, the potential for scale, community base and information, and leadership.

Following a peer review process, more than 80 were chosen for evaluation by a diverse panel of experts from academia, policy, business, philanthropy and community development, the release said. Informed by expert and peer review, the 20 finalists were selected for the final round.

For the final round, teams from The Rockefeller Foundation and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative visited each of the 20 finalists, including The Industrial Commons, to learn more about their work and visions for the future. The Rockefeller Foundation and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative then selected the final slate of 10 grantees, who each will receive a $1 million grant and technical assistance tailored to their needs.

“The enthusiasm for the Communities Thrive Challenge was just off the charts from local organizations like Industrial Commons, demonstrating a real hunger to share what’s working for the benefit of all Americans,” said Dr. Rajiv J. Shah, president of The Rockefeller Foundation, in a release. “By working together to invest in local solutions, we can build an America where all people can earn enough to support their families, achieve financial security, and provide their children with more opportunities.”

Sara Chester is co-executive director of The Industrial Commons and the project and communications manager for Burke Development Inc., the economic development organization that recruits business and industry to the county, and said in September that The Industrial Commons is a sister organization to BDI.

At that time, she gave one example about what The Industrial Commons does, saying a lot of local furniture and textile companies have an issue with fabric waste. The organization works with those companies to aggregate, sort and process their waste, Chester said.

“There are good jobs here. With this investment we hope to provide more people access to better jobs,” Chester said in a release. “By strengthening the manufacturing sector and supporting a new generation of manufacturing workers we’ll help our community continue to grow for years to come.”

The Industrial Commons was formed in 2015 in response to a need in the Western Piedmont region of North Carolina for an industry focused organization to provide resources and support to firms and networks in a way that improves livelihoods and roots wealth in communities, the release said. The organization has founded or will soon launch five interconnected enterprises:

» Workforce Development: Supports businesses around legacy, retention, ownership and worker agency

» Carolina Textile District: A federation of textile manufacturers that collaborate to solve problems

» Just Markets: A cooperative production ecosystem based on engaged markets and worker justice to launch in 2019

» Material Return: A circular economy federation that returns industrial material to marketable goods to launch in 2019

» Commons Campus: An innovative, collaborative manufacturing space for thriving micro-factories

“These organizations are creating pathways to opportunity from the ground up. We’ve already learned a lot from these local leaders and hope that others around the country will find useful lessons in these community-driven approaches,” said Priscilla Chan, co-founder of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

The Rockefeller Foundation and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative also have released a public, searchable database of eligible applicants so that other funders, policy makers and leaders can learn from these standout approaches.

Get today’s top stories right in your inbox. Sign up for our daily newsletter.

Recommended for you