Less than a decade ago, the economic malaise in Rocky Mount, N.C., was tangible. Rocky Mount Mills, a big cotton mill that had given the town its identity, had shut down in 1996, costing the area hundreds of jobs. Downtown was deserted. Nobody was hiring.
Now, the mill is a bustling complex with restaurants and breweries. It has a small hotel composed of tiny houses on wheels, a wide lawn where concerts regularly take place and a Whiffle ball field.
Since 2013, Rocky Mount Mills’ current owner, Capitol Broadcasting Company, has redeveloped the site, giving it a dynamic atmosphere with stores and residences. Its leaders are aiming to create a sense of community that will entice out-of-town businesses and workers to settle there, raising the town’s economic prospects and spurring more growth.
Which is cool, I'm all for adaptive reuse of interesting old buildings. But are microbreweries and whiffle ball really an economic substitute for manufacturing? Is this sort of thing sustainable? Or maybe the question is, how many places can pull this off, given that thousands are trying and there is only so much demand?