Failures of Cooperative Capitalism in the North Carolina Black Belt, 1982-1989

William D. Goldsmith

In the summer of 1982, an engine manufacturer and a national nonprofit discussed what they thought could be a model for equity-oriented community development in the rural South. Located in northeastern North Carolina, the engine company, a joint venture by Cummins Engine Company and the J.I. Case Company, would set aside a portion of its engine parts supply needs for local minority-owned businesses, which the nonprofit, the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, would assist with advice and capital. The experiment proved less transformative than its original champions hoped, but it was emblematic of a transition in how southern policymakers thought about rural economic development strategy. It illuminated the challenges of cooperative capitalism designed to lift both poor people and poor places through public-private partnerships. The failure catalyzed North Carolina policymakers to pursue “indigenous” small business growth rather than rely on relocating branch plants for rural economic development.