Burke County gets another $10M federal economic boost

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(The Center Square) – A western North Carolina nonprofit received a $10 million federal funding boost this week to help build a 40,000-square-foot green textile manufacturing hub in Burke County.

“We’re definitely excited to have the project for our region,” Tonia Stephenson, CEO of the Burke County Chamber of Commerce, told The Center Square. “It’s going to be a game changer.”

The Appalachian Regional Commission, an economic development effort involving the federal government and 13 state governments, awarded the grant for the new facility aimed at expanding capacity to produce what’s known as circular textiles. This means using textile waste to create new yarn used to make products at The Industrial Commons and elsewhere.

The Industrial Commons nonprofit focuses on scaling employee-owned businesses and industrial cooperatives. It’s home to three enterprises that have saved 1.8 million pounds of fabric from landfills over the last five years.

The funding will go toward developing the hub at the Innovation Campus, a 27-acre development that is at the former Drexel Heritage Furniture site in Morganton. Organizers say they expect to create 85 jobs across North and South Carolina and Tennessee, with 31 in North Carolina.

The federal grant, which was matched with funding from The Kendeda Fund, will be used for skilled training facilities, as well as incubator space for start-ups and scaling brands in the circular economy.

With an additional $5 million appropriated by the General Assembly, The Industrial Commons will complete the design process for 3.5 acres of the site throughout 2024, with the goal of breaking ground by the end of the year.

Other funding for the project came from the Environmental Protection Agency, The Cannon Foundation, and the J.M. Kaplan Fund, as well as an anonymous donor who provided money to purchase the land in 2021. The fundraising goal for the first phase of the campus is $45.6 million. This includes 10 acres of site development and the new manufacturing hub. The Industrial Commons expects to develop the remaining 18 acres and construct three to four buildings over the next 10 years.

With the federal grant, The Industrial Commons has raised a total of $23.29 million, and spent $2.75 million, leaving about $22 million left to raise.

“This project speaks to true community collaboration,” Molly Hemstreet said in a statement. She’s co-executive director of The Industrial Commons. “We look forward to it being a transformational space for the Appalachian region and the innovative work we do in the textile and furniture sectors.”

The project is the latest in a turnaround in the region’s manufacturing and textile industries over the last decade, after many companies moved or shut down in the 1990s and early 2000s, Stephenson said.

“Over the last 10 years, we’ve brought back a lot of the manufacturers,” she said, “but the textile industry has not come back like the furniture industry did.”

The funding was part of a $227 million federal program in the infrastructure law approved by Congress in 2021.

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