Orange: Community Economies

From a day laborer space to a Community Labor Center for all of Orange


The labor center designing the WE developed with stakeholders in Orange, NJ, stands out as an example for what local economic development could be when we consider what it means to co-create an ecosystem of social change. By bringing projects together, recycling resources and connecting different constituencies in Orange, we’ve set the stage for social impact and economic development that resonates across Orange and beyond. 


The township of Orange, New Jersey is a post-industrial city rich with history and diversity. Residents and community leaders are torn between past disinvestment and the potential for future displacement as commuters pour in from New York. Can development happen in Orange a third way: from the ground up, with the people living there?

In 2014 designing the WE embarked on a collaboration with the New Jersey Urban Mayors Association and the John S. Watson Institute for Public Policy as part of a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy for 19 municipalities in the region.

These processes lead to inventive proposals for Orange that systemically address community wellbeing and economic development. With a Community Labor Center, the people Orange will co-generate new and alternative economies, weave a denser social fabric, become connected to a wider social impact community and invent the future of Orange.

“Rather than just a site to deliver day labor or workforce services, the center is a community-driven place where resources are shared and recycled, diverse groups converge and learn, and people are able to discover their place of value in a larger ecosystem of social change.”
— designing the WE


Day Labor Organizing
Understanding the needs of Day Laborers in Orange is at the heart of the labor center’s identity. This means not only creating a safe space to find work, but opening the door to new opportunities and resources, from language classes to the business incubator. We include the word organizing because Day Laborers, who are often exploited, need organization and support to demand fair treatment and wages for their work. But just like artists who search for gigs, those of us who seek out freelance employment desire access to all the tools in the labor center that provide opportunity for self and collective advancement. Only when Orange is a supportive place for the most precarious type of work, can it be a place of opportunity for all workers. The name of the center changed from Day Laborer Center to Community Labor Center.

Cooperative Store
Plenty of small manufacturers and artisans would love a storefront but cannot afford the overhead. A cooperative store allows many brands and start-ups to sell their goods to the public while generating revenue that can be feed back into the community labor center as a whole. The storefront attracts passers-by who may not otherwise engage with the center. The cooperative management of the store as a business keeps its operations both sustainable and collective, thus fostering opportunities for more connections between those who operate there. The store is a place to showcase what is happening in Orange, its local artisans and its local economy. 

Cooperative Childcare
Job hunters, in particular, often lack the income to pay for someone to look after children while interviewing or training. Having childcare onsite addresses one of the biggest barriers for families to better themselves. It also invites families to explore the opportunities the labor center will create while simultaneously tackling an underlying cause of underemployment, reskilling or missed working days. Moreover it provides training and work opportunities for caregivers themselves.  








Incubator + Innovation Space 
Inspired by Thomas Edison’s “Factory of Invention,” located in Orange, two stakeholders, ORNG Ink and the University of Orange, brought the concept of an innovation lab for new products and technologies to the table. This sparked a conversation about how developing a capacity for innovation in Orange intersects with the local economy, which is highly dependent on small businesses. The model of an incubator for technical support and resources for start-ups gained steam as a way to shape the future economy and tap into knowledge that already exists in Orange for starting businesses. This space will sit at the center of the labor center: connecting ventures with classes, entrepreneurs with potential collaborators, or existing skill sets with new ideas. 

Maker Space
ORNG Ink was already in need of space to print tee-shirts and other graphic products designed by young and emerging artists in Orange. The makerspace builds on this need and connects to the incubator and innovation lab as a space for prototyping new ideas, products and technologies. It becomes a resource for skill-building classes, like building a rainwater catchment system, that are taught in the classrooms or out in the classroom of the city. The makerspace can also generate revenue by leasing hours to local makers and businesses.

Community Kitchen
Orange is a destination for international cuisine. Not only are there many diverse restaurants already in Orange, but our stakeholders determined that food service businesses -like catering- are some of the most common local start-ups. However, it is extremely difficult to transition from cooking in their own kitchen to acquiring the resources to open a restaurant or larger facility. That’s where the industrial kitchen comes in, allowing entrepreneurs access to these resources while connecting to the incubator as a space for building their business. One local caterer, Chef Jesse, uses a custom built BBQ grill: the perfect project for welding students in a makerspace. 


Classroom + Community Space
The need for skill-building classes, peer-to-peer learning, youth and adult education is a common thread through the needs of all stake-holders. Day laborers need access to English language courses, while the University of Orange needs space to deliver their peer-to-peer curriculum, which spans from the history of popular education, taught by Robert Sember of The New School, to harmonica classes taught by Jamy Lasell of Orange, NJ. Meanwhile, these spaces can be flexible to other programming; like meeting space for other organizations who lack space of their own, and community events and celebrations.