Star - Homegrown Tools

Star, NC

Updated: 2022

In the wake of shuttered textile mills and climbing unemployment, Star joined with a regional non-profit partner to develop a business incubator, located in a former mill building, which provides space and training to local artisans.

Median Household Income2020$32,258
Poverty Rate 202014.0%
Proximity to Urban Center 70 miles to Charlotte, N.C.
Proximity to Interstate Highway 72 miles
Case Study Time Frame 2004-2007
Municipal Budget FY20201 million
Data Source: US Census, American Community Survey
View Complete Case Study

In Star, small business entrepreneurs are driving job creation. Until the mid-1990s, Star was a one-industry rural community. Hosiery mills provided solid and steady job opportunities. As the mills closed and unemployment shot up, Star joined the Yadkin Pee Dee Lakes Project (a regional nonprofit organization) to work toward economic diversification in the small, rural communities of Montgomery County. The centerpiece of the strategy is the STARworks Center for Creative Enterprises in downtown Star. It is a business incubator, located in a former mill building, which provides space and training to local artisans and businesses and then facilitates their transition into Star and other surrounding communities. “There are no more big buffaloes to run our town so we are relying on small, creative entrepreneurs to ll our downtown and bring in new dollars,” the mayor said.


What are the lessons learned from this story?


Find creative re-uses for vacant buildings. Textile mills offer unique features not commonly found in business incubators: abundant space. The Southeast is littered with large, historic mill buildings that are both assets and liabilities to small communities. In some cases, environmental factors are a roadblock to building reuse. In others, moderate revitalization investments can jump-start a facility’s productivity. The STARworks Center illustrates how one small town used its mill to create new jobs. The Renfro Mill is 187,000 square feet, giving the project freedom to offer businesses and artisans substantial loft-type space. The availability of low-cost space ended up being a big draw for many of the businesses now located in the STARworks Center.

Surviving the economic transition requires a shift in local expectations regarding job creation. Most of Star’s economic legacy has been shaped by one industry – first the railroad, then the hosiery industry. The transition from a one-buffalo town to a community supported by a number of small businesses requires more than reshaping an economic development strategy; it requires shifting mindsets and community expectations. “A lot of the work we’re doing is getting small towns psychologically ready for these new small businesses,” Gottovi said. “These used to be towns with one large employer that held everyone together. Now it’s different.” Through citizen groups such as Star Central, the mindset is shifting. Residents are beginning to understand that these smaller businesses, which individually create far fewer jobs than a large branch plant, will form the economic backbone of their community. Realistic expectations among local residents help to make a business’s transition from the incubator to town more fluid. Perhaps even more important is that this shift in community mindset is creating the kind of community buy-in necessary for projects such as STARworks to succeed.