Soon, dozens of people who work for TRU Colors will be out of a job.
Operations at the brewery, which employed active gang members, were expected to close Friday, its CEO George Taylor announced Wednesday
With just two days to look for new opportunities before being unemployed, employees – especially those with criminal backgrounds – may face difficulty finding new opportunities.
“I’m disappointed that more than four dozen young men and some women are out of jobs today,” District Attorney Ben David said. “I think that’s tragic.”
Since sharing his closure letter
, Taylor has not responded to follow-up questions. Late last year, a brewery representative reported it had 80 employees; the Greater Wilmington Business Journal could not confirm the latest count.
N.C. Department of Commerce spokesperson David Rhoades said the Division of Employment Security has detailed information available online
for people caught in a situation. “The program is designed to support people who lose their job through no fault of their own,” he said.
New Hanover County’s Port City United director, Cedric Harrison, said the organization is already coordinating with many of the brewery’s soon-to-be former employees. Launched in February, the county organization has similar violence prevention goals as TRU Colors, and similar approaches to achieving it, involving a hands-on approach utilizing individuals, some of which have connections to gangs.
“Port City United has already been in contact with many of the employees of TRU Colors, and we are currently trying to help them find new jobs or be connected with more job readiness training. Helping these individuals will be a focus for our team,” Harrison said Friday.
Attributing nearly $40 million to violence prevention initiatives for a four-year period, the county propped up Port City United in response to calls to address violence following an August 2021 shooting at New Hanover High School.
David, who was quoted at length in a recent New Yorker story
covering the brewery, told the Greater Wilmington Business Journal he and Taylor are like-minded in their belief in fighting crime through job creation.
“The streets should not be the only equal opportunity employer in Wilmington,” David said. “I was initially very glad to know that George was going specifically to a population that many other people wouldn't, and that is young men who are justice-involved, who have very few job prospects. I think that's heroic.”
TRU Colors’ business model and marketing relied on the employment of rival gang members. Taylor believes, per his letter, that the path to reducing street violence is via economic opportunity and social inclusion. The founder provided these missing pieces through the brewery’s job opportunities for individuals who may traditionally have difficulty finding employment, given potential criminal histories.
But the unconventional arrangement didn’t work out, at least for this for-profit business model. Gang affiliations and criminal pasts contributed to what led to a high-profile shooting that killed two and occurred in the founder’s son’s home, who was the brewery’s COO, last summer.
News of the brewery’s closure arrived just a week after The New Yorker published its feature on the business that centered on the shooting.
Negative media reports, which triggered a hesitancy amongst investors, coupled with a perceived lack of local support, were to blame for the business’ sudden closure, Taylor explained in a lengthy letter shared with the Greater Wilmington Business Journal.
In 2013, David and Live Oak Bank founder Chip Mahan founded Hometown Hires, an initiative that eventually morphed into what is now StepUp Wilmington, a job placement and training group that focuses on individuals who traditionally face barriers to employment.
Will Rikard, StepUp Wilmington's director, said he had nothing new to report regarding the possibility of hiring the brewery's soon-to-be former employees. "We are always prepared and ready to work with folks looking for new and better jobs!" he wrote in an email Friday.
When David first launched the first iteration of the group, he said he convened meetings with area CEOs and found Taylor to be an early supporter of the mission.
“George was one of those CEOs who I involved in an early stage [of Hometown Hires] because of his expressed willingness to make a difference,” David said. “I have admired his tenacity through the years to bring entrepreneurial energy and out-of-the-box thinking to a problem that seems to be intractable.
“I frankly appreciate the business community and George in particular, stepping up to try and do something different to fight crime by building community,” he said.
Despite the shared ground, David and Taylor fundamentally differ in their perspectives on the brewery’s business model. Eligible employees ought to renounce gang membership and violence, not violence alone, David said.
“Here's a couple of big issues that I couldn't reconcile: Gang members are dues-paying members, just like members of a country club. Even if you're earning money legitimately, like from TRU Colors, or the county, if you have to pay membership dues to your gang where's that money going to? And if the answer is to drug trafficking or human trafficking, then we are giving oxygen to the very fire we're trying to stamp out,” David said.
“I wanted TRU Colors to succeed,” he said.
A representative of Molson Coors, which invested an undisclosed stake in the company, said the brewery’s mission is still admirable.
"We take our responsibility to make difference for people and the planet seriously, and the partnership with TRU Colors was an example of that,” Lenox Magee wrote in an email Wednesday. “While financial challenges hampered its business, as was announced today, TRU Colors’ mission of reducing violence through economic empowerment was powerful and hopefully will endure."