Our investment in The Industrial Commons

Beth Foster-Chao
Beth Foster-Chao March 7, 2022 2 min read

Our investment in The Industrial Commons

A reinvention of American textile manufacturing

The Autodesk Foundation is pleased to welcome The Industrial Commons (TIC) to its Work & Prosperity portfolio. TIC is a nonprofit based in Morganton, North Carolina that is embracing circularity, worker-centric models, and technology to build the economic resilience of local textile firms and their manufacturing workforces.

From 1990 to 2012, as production shifted overseas, employment in the U.S. textile and apparel industries dropped by 75%, with a total of 1.2 million jobs lost, many of them in rural communities. In North Carolina, long home to textile manufacturing in the U.S., economic prosperity was closely tied to the health of the industry. As a result, the state saw hundreds of local manufacturing businesses close, and thousands of workers lose their jobs, a painful example of how the evolution of local industry can lead to sudden job displacement and economic hardship. In Burke County, where TIC is headquartered, the median household income is $44,500 and the poverty rate is 23% higher than the national average.

Today, we’re seeing a reinvention of textile manufacturing in the U.S. as apparel companies look to domestic manufacturers to help them meet increasing consumer demand for greater customization and faster design-to-delivery turnaround times. There’s also growing investment in sustainable and ethical supply chain management, presenting a compelling market opportunity and an avenue for increasing work and prosperity in low-income communities.

Why the Industrial Commons?

The Industrial Commons builds on western North Carolina’s manufacturing legacy by incubating and supporting textile and furniture enterprises, helping them adopt technology, integrate circular economy practices, and access national markets. TIC’s customers include major apparel companies like Smartwool® that are prioritizing sustainable business practices in their supply chains.

Since 2015, TIC has grown to 28 staff, and four social enterprises that span the textile value chain, from waste collection and fiber processing (Material Return) to sewn goods production (Carolina Textile District) to its own apparel brand (COLLECTION). TIC’s network includes 60 manufacturing firms, 1,350 worker-stewards, and over 4,000 people trained and supported in business education and cooperative structures. Workers in TIC’s network have the opportunity to develop vital job skills, build wealth, and grow in diverse and inclusive workplaces.

Advancing impact alongside Autodesk

Over the course of just a few years, TIC has become an important regional industry player and is now accelerating its growth and impact. Where there are value chain gaps, TIC is incubating and nurturing new social enterprises. Where local businesses are falling behind, TIC is coaching them through adopting best practices and collaborating for major contracts. Though rooted in western North Carolina, TIC is becoming a national leader with a model that is applicable both across the country and across industries.

TIC embraces automation as a way to increase competitiveness and make manufacturing jobs safer and more creative and is building an Innovation Campus to ensure small manufacturers can access industry-leading machinery. With the help of Autodesk experts and software solutions, TIC aims to realize its Net-Zero objectives and construct the campus in collaboration with multiple community stakeholders by leveraging Autodesk’s common data environment capabilities. The Autodesk Foundation is also working with TIC to incorporate best-in-class ESG tracking to measure and monitor the environmental footprint of its enterprises for customers.

Learn more about how the Industrial Commons is building a more resilient, equitable, and sustainable future.

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