Western North Carolina
A Place-Based Rural Industry Focus
Western North Carolina, also known as the Mountain Region, is the rural part of the state that includes the Appalachian Mountains. Its main population center, Asheville, has a population of 83,393. The geography of North Carolina reinforces strong regional patterns of identity and culture, economic development, and industry concentrations. Western North Carolina is home to a large number of immigrants of Mayan descent, many of whom work in the poultry, furniture, and textile industries. The textile industry has historically been a critical part of the region’s economy, and offshoring has resulted in a massive loss of textile jobs since the 1980s.
Recent interest in reviving the textile industry is driving new efforts in cooperative development. One highly innovative and fast-growing worker-owned textile factory co-founded, and plays a leading role in, the Carolina Textile District, a collaboration of businesses along the textile industry value chain. Overall, Western North Carolina has only four worker cooperatives, but value-chain organizing within the heritage industries (especially textiles, hosiery, and furniture-making) could spur more strategic co-op development as part of broader economic revitalization. As in many rural areas, the only prospective buyers for businesses whose owners are retiring may be local, increasing potential for conversions to cooperative ownership.