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Company Town

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"You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store."
Merle Travis, "16 Tons"

When a town is controlled by a single company. In Real Life these were popular in the days before automobiles allowed workers to freely commute. A company would build a town to provide local services such as libraries and general stores. The downside was that many companies price gouged and used debt bondage to keep their employees from leaving for a better job in a form of Indentured Servitude. Their prevalence was one of the factors that led to the formation of labor unions in the USA in the '20s and '30s, often with violent resistance from these companies, who employed Pinkerton Detectives or similar to suppress labor organizing and strikes. Not all company towns were bad; some were created to provide a better standard of living and create jobs. Others exist simply because the town in question is so remote, no one else wants to move in.


The more modern version of this trope is a town with a single commercial organization that outclasses any others nearby and effectively runs the area. Smaller, independent businesses do exist, but with little to no political influence in comparison. Unlike older versions, these towns can hold protests and rallies, but will be looked down upon as inconsequential insects from those within the imposing corporate tower, if not ignored outright.

If the company has enough resources to build a town quickly, it's also a Boom Town. Should the company in question go under, the town can become a Dying Town or Ghost Town. If it's not a company, but a family running things, then it's closer to feudalism. You can expect this trope to be Recycled In Space, with Asteroid Miners taking the place of Earth Miners.


Compare with Only Shop in Town, there's usually more than one shop, but they're either in league with or owned by a single company; One Nation Under Copyright, a Mega-Corp owning a citystate or bigger; Industrial Ghetto, usually a part of larger city; I Own This Town, where one person is running things; Egopolis, a town named after the dictator who controls it; and Elaborate University High (for a collegiate version).


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     Anime and Manga 
  • Ghost Hound: Suiten has Dai-Nippon Bio that employes a lot of the town, but there are also smaller businesses on the side, like Tarou's parents' brewery.
  • One early chapter of Fullmetal Alchemist has the Elric Brothers pass through a mining town where the mine owner is also the local government representative, with all the corruption that having one's employer, landlord and tax collector being the same person implies. Ed tricks the man into giving up ownership of the mine, and then sells the deed to the miners for a night at the inn and food for the next leg of his travels. The mine owner would return dozens of chapters later as a minor character after leaving the town in disgrace.

     Comic Books 
  • There was a series of Green Arrow stories where he worked alongside Green Lantern that played off of their divergent view of law and justice, and one story had them go to a mining town in the Rocky Mountains called Desolation, which was an example of the really bad type of these. As discussed here, the whole story is not very realistic, particularly in regard to having such a town still existing in the 1970s.
  • Honest Corporate Executive Scrooge McDuck from the Disney Ducks Comic Universe owns just about every business in Duckburg, and if he doesn't own every business in the world, it's not from lack of trying. Unlike most versions of this trope, Duckburg existed before Scrooge showed up, but was just a tiny farming community surrounding the decaying ruins of the colonial Fort Duckburg. Also unusual, he shut down his business empire and retired for about a decade, with Duckburg not being particularly worse for wear.
  • Everyone in Copperhead either works for Benjamin Hickory's copper mine or provides goods and services for those employees.

  • Matewan was set in Matewan, West Virginia in the 1920s, which was a company town controlled by a coal company. It told the story of people resisting this arrangement and forming a miner's union, facing harsh suppression by company enforcers.
  • The Rundown involves a mining town in a remote part of Brazil that's run this way, at around the present time. The boss of the town, Hatcher, is brutal with his workers and pays them a paltry wage, which necessitates borrowing money from him and getting so deep into debt with him that there's no hope of getting out of it. Mariana leads a group of rebels that oppose this arrangement, calling it nothing less than escravidão — slavery.
  • Outland has a company town and mining camp, in the form of a mining station in orbit around Jupiter.
  • In the RoboCop movies, OCP's plan is to level the current Detroit and replace it with "Delta City", which would be entirely corporate-owned.
  • Raccoon City was this in the Resident Evil movies, built and owned by the Umbrella Corporation.
  • In Salt of the Earth, Delaware Zinc owns everything, not just the mine and the land, but the shacks the miners live in and the store where they go to buy goods. This allows them to put the screws to the miners when the miners go on strike for better living and working conditions.
  • Biopic Coal Miner's Daughter starts with Loretta Lynn growing up in the company coal mining town of Butcher's Hollow, KY. After her father collects his paycheck from the mine, he goes straight to the company store to spend it.
  • No God No Master: Discussed by Flynn when he's speaking with John D. Rockefeller, as a possible motive to sent a bomb for Rockefeller's house. In particular, the Ludlow Massacre at one of the company towns which Rockefeller's business runs appears to be the impetus behind the bomb.
  • Big Business 1988: Jupiter Hollow is run lock, stock and barrel by the Hollowmade Furniture Company, with the local hospital only being accessible to Hollowmade employees. During the Distant Prologue, when a wealthy woman is in labor, and is refused admittance to the hospital, her husband races to the house of the owner and buys the company from him on the spot. Decades later, his children (one of whom was Switched at Birth with a girl from Jupiter Hollow) are contemplating shutting down the company, and bankrupting the town. Hilarity Ensures when some of the townspeople come out to protest, including the sister of the Switched at Birth girl.

  • Red Harvest is set in one of these officially known as Personville, but popularly called "Poisonville". The town is essentially the fiefdom of industrialist Elihu Willsson, "Czar of Poisonville", and Willsson established his control by hiring various gangs of thugs to help him "settle" a labor dispute and enforce that settlement. At the time the story starts, this has started to backfire on Willsson, as the gangs proceeded to fight for power among themselves and bring anarchy to the town.
  • October Sky is set in Coalwood, West Virginia, a real town founded, owned, and operated by the Carter Coal Company and then sold to the Consolidation Coal Company (which became the Olga Coal Company...) to house workers at the Coalwood mine. Attempts to unionize the mine are part of the story.
  • Proudhon City in the Hostile Takeover (Swann) series is owned lock, stock, and barrel by the Proudhon Spaceport Development Corporation, which keeps order on its own terms.
  • In the Alliance/Union universe humanity's space stations throughout colonized space were run by the Earth Company, at least on paper. Until they rebelled.
  • John Saul's Creature is set in a modern-day company town named Silverdale, Colorado, which doubles as a Town with a Dark Secret.
  • Many business owners in Atlas Shrugged had towns named after them pop up around their businesses (ex. Marshville for Roger Marsh, Wyatt Junction for Ellis Wyatt). When the government sets out to rid the world of these greedy, selfish villains and their evil moneymaking ways, they reply, "Okay," and obligingly close up shop. The loss of each business triggers a set of Disaster Dominoes as the businesses that grew up around it close as well, putting more and more people out of work, thus causing more businesses to go bankrupt upon losing their customers...
  • The Darth Bane book Path of Destruction in the Star Wars Expanded Universe has one of these in the form of the planet Apatros, owned by a mining corporation that does this. Dessel, later known as Darth Bane, grew up here with an alcoholic father that drove his family deep into debt through his drinking, and then died of an (apparent) heart attack but leaves Dessel with the debt. Even getting lucky at cards can't get the debt paid, because the pot has been deliberately capped to keep workers from paying off their debts in a single lucky night.
  • Wet Desert: Tracking Down a Terrorist on the Colorado River: Boulder City, Nevada was formerly a company town erected by the builders of Hoover Dam, a history referenced in the story.
  • Sacroden in the Hc Svnt Dracones novel Fate's Fangs is owned by the medical corporation Reveidolon, who use their authority to spread "benign" viruses among the residents for research and kill undesirables.

     Live-Action TV 
  • Eureka centers around Global Dynamics, with its mayor even being a former employee.
  • Firefly: Jayne explicitly uses this term for Canton, the ceramics workers' town on Higgins' Moon in "Jaynestown". It's one of the bad ones: Magistrate Higgins pays the workers almost nothing so he can get filthy rich, and they're mostly indentured so they can't legally quit. The RPG rulebook says that Higgins' son has been working to improve conditions since the episode, however.
  • Westerly and Leith in Killjoys are Company Moons which are all owned by the Company which owns the entire star system.
  • In The Secret World of Alex Mack, nearly everyone in the town of Paradise Valley works for the chemical company that made the product Alex was splashed with, and whose evil higher-ups are looking for her.
  • Smallville originally relied on a creamed corn plant to keep the populace in business. The owners sold out to the pesticide company Luthorcorp under the promise that no one would be kicked out of work. So it should come as no surprise that the factory was bulldozed and replaced with a noxious fertilizer plant.
  • In the episode "A Private War" of the TV show Guns of Paradise, a mining company uses strongarm tactics to try to buy or ruin all independent businesses in town.
  • The Sliders episode "Season's Greedings" had the Sliders land near a city sized mall that was effectively one of these, turned Up to Eleven. Not only were prices exorbitant and wages low, but:
    • Cash was not allowed, only the mall's debit accounts.
    • Employees in the mall were required to spend 80% of wages earned within the mall. Failure to do so would cause your wages to be docked.
    • Those who took on actual debt to pay for their purchases were forced to wear an electronic shackle that prevented them from leaving the mall.
    • The mall was also secretly using Subliminal Advertising to get people to spend more money on things they didn't really need. Of all of these, this is the only thing the mall was doing that most people on that world considered immoral or illegal.
  • Quarra, in the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Workforce", appears to be a Company Planet.
  • Twin Peaks is the modern version, where Ben Horne runs both the hotel and the department store, with the lumber mill being the only major thing he doesn't absolutely control - and much of his plot arc is based around his attempt to take control of that, too.
  • In season 3 of Malcolm in the Middle, Francis moves to Alaska to get a logging job on the recommendation of Eric. Turns out that the job is horrible and Eric tricked Francis into coming in a desperate attempt to help him get out of crushing debt to his boss, Lavernia. Lavernia rules over the isolated workers with an iron fist and price gouges them so they have to work for her to pay off their endless debts.
  • The planned municipality of Zawame City from Kamen Rider Gaim
  • In Incorporated the Green Zones are luxury versions. Gated cities and suburbs where the owning corporation's management can live without being disturbed by the Red Zone slums surrounding them.
  • Sweetville in the Doctor Who episode "The Crimson Horror" is based on real-world Victorian "model settlements" by paternalistic employers like Port Sunlight and Bourneville. It's actually a front for a murderous eugenicist cult.
    • The much earlier story The Sun Makers features a company planet.

  • Sixteen Tons first recorded by Merle Travis and made famous by Tennessee Ernie Ford was about life in a coal-company town and not being able to get out (see page quote).
  • The Grateful Dead song "Cumberland Blues" has the line:
    Gotta go back to the Cumberland mine
    That's where I mainly spend my time
    Make good money, five dollars a day
    If I made any more, I might move away
  • The Men They Couldn't Hang's "Company Town", obviously:
    Mister Company man on the Company land
    Stands every street and building in the town
    Every park, every green, every hope and dream
    The company owns every piece of ground
    And everybody in the company town

    Tabletop Games 
  • Classic Traveller Double Adventure 3 "Death Station". The adventure starts with the PCs on the planet Gadden, working at a small mining camp. The wages are cheap and the expenses are exorbitant, and the PCs are in debt over their heads to the company store.
  • Exalted has the Northern mountain town known as the Coindelving, which manufactures and distributes the currency used by the Guild. Unusually for this trope (and the Guild as a whole), the Coindelving is actually a pretty decent place to live and work; the mines offer good wages and are a warm place to work in the icy nation, the workers are continuously praised for their work ethic and craftsmanship, and the elemental dragon who powers the furnaces also defends the town from bandits and monsters.
  • In Shadowrun the Mega Corps take this a step further with extraterritoriality. On their property they issue their own scrip (only usable at their stores) and write their own laws, like it was their own country.
  • Most nations in BattleTech's Inner Sphere have pulled Company Store tactics from time to time, though some of the most famous incidents were the Draconis Combine's attempt to assimilate the Wolf's Dragoons and the Federated Suns' hamhanded treatment of the Northwind Highlanders. Both ended tragically as the Dragoons ended up in a Pyrrhic Victory against Warlord Samsonov's forces on Misery, and the Highlanders, covertly backed by an agent of the Capellan Confederation who was a descendant of one of their heroes, decided to go independent when Katherine Steiner-Davion's actions triggered the breakup of the Federated Commonwealth, leaving FedSuns forces unable to keep hold of their homeworld of Northwind.
  • Hc Svnt Dracones has an unusual take on it, large automated constructors made private cities and even islands affordable and many citizens dissatisfied with conventional governments moved to the new "corptowns". Tensions rose between the Megacorps and the old nations for several years and came to a point after MarsCo colonized Mars and began to genetically engineer sentient bipedal animals called "Vectors", which the governments saw as abominations and tried to exterminate. This led to Mars declaring independence supported by the Earth-bound corporations and open war with the governments, which became nuclear. MarsCo was the only significant power to survive the war, though in later centuries other Megacorps emerged, so pretty much everyone now lives in a corptown.
  • Malifaux is an entire world that functions as a company town, and is described as "an economic hellscape" out-of-universe. The Guild controls all passage in or out of Malifaux, the only accepted currency is Guild Scrip (and the Guild sets the exchange rates within Malifaux), all businesses must obtain a Guild license, and all law enforcement is operated directly by the Guild.

     Video Games 
  • Killer7 contains a subversion. The stage Cloudman takes place within a company town, but the end of the stage reveals that the company itself isn't even real, and the monolithic building the city is built around is just a flat prop.
  • In Hitman: Absolution, the protagonist pays a visit to Hope, South Dakota, the home base of Dexter Industries. The company owns and employs everyone in some shape or form, including the crooked police force. Civil protestors meet an untimely end in Sheriff Sturkey's jail (though officially, they "fell"), and everyone works in harmony to keep the money flowing. 47 essentially has to reduce the town to a smoking crater to mop up the corruption.
  • In Star Trek Online, the player is sent to investigate a planet with a Romulan mining town, completely controlled by a Ferengi and a mining company. The people are living in squalor. They're allowed just enough currency to buy upgrades for their machinery, or food, but not both. The Ferengi in charge mentions how prices for food rations have doubled due to recent events. Further investigation reveals a hidden Romulan communications base, with the Romulans in charge paying off the Ferengi to keep quiet.
  • Midgar (and Junon, and really the whole world) from Final Fantasy VII, a colossal metropolis constructed and ruled explicitly by the Shinra corporation.
  • Finkton from BioShock Infinite hits pretty much all the marks. Long, strictly-enforced working hours, pitiful wages that are paid in scrip only usable at the company store, and propaganda all over the place trying to convince employees they don't need things like sick leave or lunch breaks. Jeremiah Fink even has employees bid on who can perform a job for the lowest wage. His overthrow by the Vox Populi is very well deserved.
  • Rapture from the original BioShock wasn't supposed to be this, but for all intents and purposes ended turning into a Company Town as Andrew Ryan quickly abandoned all pretense of free enterprise when he thought Fontaine threatened his vision of Rapture.
  • In Kingdom of Loathing, Crimbo 2010 saw Crimbo Town replaced with CRIMBCO, a "Blandly Pleasant, Inoffensively Festive" corporation that paid its employees (i.e. Crimbo elves and adventurers) in scrip they could only use to buy food and drink from the cafeteria and tacky presents from the gift store.
  • The Wolf Among Us has a strip club, "The Puddin' and Pie", which is similar to a "Company Store" because the owner refuses to release any of his workers, charging them "fees" to stay there. Also, they're fitted with decapitation collars with disguise and vocal trigger mods.
  • Jurassic Park: Trespasser had the town of Burroughs situated on Isla Sorna to provide a place for the staff of Jurassic Park a place to live while everything was being built. Seemingly averts the corruption aspect of this trope, as it might've been a decent place to live if it weren't for all the carnivorous dinosaurs and whatnot. There is a company owned store call the "InGeneral Store" though.
  • Resident Evil:
    • The Umbrella corporation in the first three games had controlled the small Midwestern American town of Raccoon City, though they also had influence in other parts of the world. According to the in game files and backstories, Umbrella helped pay for several things that Raccoon City needed when it was a new town (cable cars, a hospital, etc) and effectively ran the town in their name from there. This gets By Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, Jill Valentine, one of the survivors of the Mansion Incident from the first game, tried to warn the townspeople about Umbrella, but no one would listen to her due to either fearing retribution from Umbrella or they worked with Umbrella and thus refused to talk or listen. The entire town then suffers an Zombie Apocalypse before the U.S. government decides to nuke the town off the map to prevent the virus from spreading further.
    • In Sheva Alomar's backstory for Resident Evil 5, her hometown in Africa was run by Umbrella and although most people there were poor, they made enough money to be able to live somewhat comfortably. An accident occurred at the factory, which had killed a lot of people and this included Sheva's parents when she was a child. After Sheva became a teenager, she found out that the accident was directly caused by Umbrella with their experimental B.O.W.s going haywire.
    • Gets lampshaded in Resident Evil 2 (Remake) where Leon wonders how the heck Umbrella could have a sewer system that leads directly to their lab without anyone knowing about it. Ada simply replies "Welcome to corporate America."
  • Port Prosper in Sunless Skies is the stronghold of the Windward Company, which represents New London's interests in the Reach and is the center of most of the events surrounding the port.
  • Kaidan district Tokyo in The Secret World - prior to the Tokyo bombing, anyway. The stamping grounds of the Orochi Group, just about everything in Kaidan kowtowed to the company in one way or another: with a few notable exceptions, most of the local businesses, services, and products were all owned, managed or influenced by Orochi in some way; even local sports teams were branded with Orochi colours. An entire stretch of the local waterfront was remade into housing projects for Orochi employees, complete with schools and daycare facilities provided by the Group's daughter corporations - all for the purposes of isolating potentially valuable test subjects for the Rising Star Project, of course. Last but not least, Kaidan's skyline is dominated by the colossal Orochi Tower, the company's official headquarters and the hub of economic, political, and scientific power in the region.

     Web Comics 
  • Unsounded: The kingdom of Cresce uses high-tech super-expensive magic programming on every single coin, which feature genetic identification and procedural tracking, all to control every town's meagre wages so that any work done in their cities can only be used to requisition supplies from their government with government-regulated prices. Considering that most of the world suspects that the queen is a sociopath, this lack of economy makes sense.
    • And then horribly deconstructed after Glasceau makes his move and unleashes a titanic murder machine made from the pain and suffering of the afterlife on Ethelmik. Since the town doesn't have an economy to salvage, the Cresian militia comes to wipe them out, thinking they're no better than vermin for the crime of living in the same town that birthed that monstrosity. Every named character is horrified.
  • Dear Children: Hearthbrook, MA is more or less owned by the Langworthies and the Saddlers. They co-own the port which is the town's main business: Mr. Saddler built the port and Mr. Langworthy runs it. Both families seem to be connected to the shadowy conspiracy, which treats with the mysterious monsters who dwell beneath the town, and is strongly implied to be providing them a steady supply of human victims.
  • Namechecked and defied in Schlock Mercenary by Sanctum Adroit, a firmly Lawful Good law enforcement company, who have a strict "No Company Towns" policy. Requiring Massey, the lawyer for Tagon's Toughs, to explain he's representing a newly established nation-state that's contracted his employer for defense, not the Toughs themselves.

     Web Original 

     Western Animation 
  • Detroit Deluxe from Motorcity seems partly based on Midgar; while they're both Sci-Fi Company Towns built over massive slums, Deluxe favors the Ascetic Aesthetic in comparison to Midgar's Diesel Punk.
  • The Simpsons episode "You Only Move Twice" has an interesting example in Cypress Creek, built for Hank Scorpio's Globex Corporation – Scorpio treats his employees very well, but he's also an Affably Evil parody of a Bond villain, who (thanks to Homer) managed to seize the East Coast by the end. Cypress Creek is a Company Town in only the most literal sense of the word though, having more in common with a planned community than the traditional version of this trope. The wages for employees are high, standard of living is through the roof, and the entire town is clean, well maintained and a generally great place to live... unless you're the Simpson family, who are used to the general bleakness and crapsackness of Springfield.
  • Recess: A child-level example; in one episode, T.J comes back to school after being out with the flu for a week, only to discover that the entire playground has formed an economic system around the latest fad - Monstickers bubble gum cards! Starting from the bottom, T.J ends up virtually taking over the playground and turning it into this trope since he controls nearly all the cards, and kids spend all recess either working for him or doing nothing (the latter of which he institutes a fine on). His empire crumbles when the fad runs it's course and is replaced by something new.
  • Costume Quest's Auburn Hollow is a parody of mining towns, where the main export of their mines was nougat.

     Real Life 
  • For list of company towns in the world, see the other wiki.
  • The closed cities played a similar role in the Soviet Union, except they were usually built around state-controlled research institutes and military production facilities (particularly nuclear and aerospace) rather than privately-owned companies. Currently, both closed cities and the more traditional company towns exist in Russia; the latter tend to be concentrated in the resource-rich but severe Northern Siberia. Including a whole Company City, Norilsk. Ukraine contains probably the most infamous Soviet closed city: Pripyat, former home to Chernobyl nuclear plant employees and their families… and currently a Ghost Town.
  • In Communist China, each danwei (work unit—the socialist equivalent of a company) forms a quasi-autonomous compound that would not only contain offices and factories, but also contain worker's housing, clinics, schools, restaurants, stores, gyms, entertainment facilities. Cities like Beijing would contain hundreds of these cities-within-cities, each dedicated to a different danwei. This allows each danwei (and by extension, the Communist Government) better control of its workers as they would spend 90% of their adult lives within the compound; activities such as travel, marriage, and even getting pregnant would require prior-approval by your danwei. As an added bonus, it also saved on transportation fees.
  • In Akron, Ohio, the former "Rubber Capital" of the US, the two biggest tire companies in the world both had their own sections of the city: Goodyear Heights and Firestone Park. While the companies have long since moved their manufacturing operations elsewhere (though Goodyear still has its corporate headquarters in Akron), the neighborhoods have kept their names and they're still two of the nicer areas of the city.


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