We manufacture hope for the people of Western North Carolina.
The Industrial Commons was formed in 2015 in response to a need in Western 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. Our organization operates several interconnected social enterprises to ensure that industrial businesses are revitalized and sustainable, work is rooted and meaningful and workers live good, dignified lives.
We are leaders from the factory floor. Using our experience we solve problems by building out solutions in manufacturing clusters that address business resiliency, worker agency and environmental issues. We are creating an inclusive economy rooted in community and dignity. Our approach is unique because we build on the assets of our region. We bring workers and manufacturers together to find triple-bottom line solutions to entrenched manufacturing issues.
The concept of a geographical "commons" dates back centuries to a time when shared land in a village or town was not owned by anyone but was a benefit for everyone in the community.
Molly is the Executive Co-director for The Industrial Commons. She co-founded the organization in 2015 to support industrial workers across her region. She is a native of Morganton, NC where she continues to work and raise her family. After attending Duke University she returned home to teach in the public school system. She then worked for the Center for Participatory Change organizing economic development initiatives across rural Western NC in a response to the need for fair livelihoods. In 2008 she founded Opportunity Threads, currently the largest, US based worker-owned, cut and sew facility. She also co-founded the Carolina Textile District in 2013, a strategic value chain supporting the resurgence of textiles across the Carolinas. Molly served on the national board of the Democracy at Work Institute (DAWI) and currently serves as Co-Chair of the Board for the NC Employment Ownership Center. She loves being with her family and, when she has time, she likes to play the fiddle.
Sara is the Executive Co-director for The Industrial Commons. She co-founded the organization in 2015 to create more opportunities for working class people in rural communities. She graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill then returned to her hometown of Morganton, NC, to take a position at Burke Development, Inc., plant roots and start a family. Sara has worked in economic and community development for six years, focusing much of this time on place-based initiatives that grow local wealth. She was awarded an International Economic Development Council (IEDC) award for Innovative Economic Development and was named in 2017, along with Co-Director Molly Hemstreet, a J.M.K. Innovation Prize awardee. Sara enjoys being out in the woods, camping or hiking, and spending time with her husband and two kids.
Aaron Dawson is the Workplace Development Manager for The Industrial Commons where he leads efforts to create and sustain worker committees in manufacturing plants that are interested in shifting to a more democratic and millennial friendly culture. He has 15 years of experience as a worker owner at Equal Exchange, a Fair Trade Massachusetts company specializing in the sourcing and distribution of coffee, tea and chocolate. For ten of those years, Aaron held the role of Customer Service Manager, overseeing a team of 12. He has many years of experience participating in and facilitating worker committees and developing ideas, policies and practices that create a positive and supportive work environment. In addition, he was elected to serve on Equal Exchange’s Board of Directors for six years and was Chair of the Board for one of those years. Aaron holds a Masters from St. Mary’s University in Halifax, Canada. He served on the Board of the US Federation of Worker Co-ops for four years and currently is Board Treasurer for the Democracy at Work Institute.
Libby is the Network Coordinator for the Carolina Textile District, an enterprise of The Industrial Commons. Her interest in our organization began as she started her own cut & sew facility, Sew Co., in Hendersonville, NC as an effort to preserve the skill of sewing and our domestic manufacturing economy. Libby finds inspiration in the camaraderie, creative problem-solving and shared vision the Members of the CTD have for the textile industry. As a Member and staff, Libby helps cultivate this growing community of manufacturers.
Trained in fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Technology, business administration at the University of San Francisco, and fine art at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, O’Bryan melds her hybrid background into a creative business practice.
Bob Carswell serves as the Operations Manager for Material Return. Born and raised in Morganton, NC, he is driven to see his home community thrive. Previously, Bob worked for E.J. Victor, a furniture manufacturer, for 14 years as a CAD pattern maker and a CNC cutter. There he was able to offer ideas and innovation and worked closely with most divisions of the plant where he learned how different levels of a manufacturing company feels and operates.
Bob has an associate’s degree in electrical engineering and an associate’s degree in computer engineering from Western Piedmont Community College. He also enjoys teaching computer and electrical engineering classes at WPCC as an adjunct instructor. He loves family hikes with his wife and son, working on and with computers, electronics, carpentry, and reading.
Jenny is the Financial and Administrative Manager for The Industrial Commons. Her interest in the organization started from helping as the bookkeeper for Opportunity Threads. She is a parishioner, former member of the Finance Council and currently bookkeeper for St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church. Originally from Indiana, Jenny landed in North Carolina after four years in the US Army and three in the North Carolina National Guard. After being Honorably discharged, she worked in Hickory at the Target Distribution Center as a group leader overseeing 30 employees. It was here that Jenny met many workers who had been displaced by the furniture industry. Jenny holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Management from Indiana University and a Bookkeeping Certificate from Sandhills Community College. She met her husband David in the National Guard and has two children and three step-children. When she isn’t working, she enjoys reading and exercising.
Tea Yang | Program Coordinator
Tea Yang serves as the Program Coordinator for The Industrial Commons and Work in Burke, a project of Burke Development, Inc. She markets and promotes key messages of the Work in Burke campaign and assists with Worker Committee logistics and facilitation. She has 16 years experience in the manufacturing sector as a frontline worker, which has inspired her work of creating a more democratic work culture in our region. Born in a war-torn Laos in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, Tea and her family immigrated to the US in 1989 as refugees and settled in Western North Carolina in 1993. She graduated from Western Piedmont Community College (WPCC) in 2011 with her Associates in Arts where she served as Phi Theta Kappa President and was selected for “The Great Within the 58” Academic Excellence Award and is North Carolina’s 2011 New Century Scholar. She previously served on WPCC’s Foundation Board of Directors and currently serves on the WPCC Board of Trustees. She also holds a Bachelor’s in Communication with a focus on Media Studies and Production from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Leigh Anne Hilbert is the Network Coordinator for the Carolina Textile District, an enterprise of The Industrial Commons. Growing up in a textile region in southwestern Virginia, she saw factories close and thousands of people laid off, including her mother. After witnessing the positive impact that the TIC and CTD could have in the region, both for owners and workers, she jumped in.
After graduating with a BFA from James Madison University, she headed west and worked in the costuming and arts community in Oregon and California. When she came back to the mountains with her family, she opened The Drygoods Studios, a community driven mixed-use studio space in the heart of West Asheville, where she sells her canvas and leather bags and accessories. She is also the Director of Design and Development at Sew Co, one of the CTD's members.
Tanya Wade is the Project Coordinator for the Carolina Textile District, an enterprise of The Industrial Commons. Since 2013 she has immersed herself in the textile industry to learn as much as possible about every process involved in producing cut and sewn products. She is a resource for entrepreneurs who want to produce goods domestically and connects them to CTD's members. She is also the Entrepreneur Intake Administrator at the Manufacturing Solutions Center, a strong partner with TIC that specializes in testing, R&D, prototyping, training and more. She has a wide range of office experience including a background in HR, Office Management, Logistics, RTV, OS&D and Customer Service.
In 2013 she graduated Magna Cum Laude with an Associate’s Degree in Applied Science in Web Technology from Catawba Valley Community College. She enjoys participating in a variety of sports with her husband, from golf to paintball, but when it’s time to relax and unwind she loves to listen to music or curl up with a good book.