Typically, a company town will be isolated from neighbors and centered (figuratively, if not literally) around a large production factory such as a lumber or steel mill or an automobile plant; and the citizens of the town will either work in the factory, work in one of the smaller businesses, or be a family member of someone who does. The company may also operate parks, host cultural events such as concerts, and so on. Needless to say, when the owning company cuts back or goes out of business, the economic effect on the company town is devastating, and often fatal.
Company towns sometimes become regular public cities and towns as they grow. Other times, a town may not officially be a company town, but it may be a town where the majority of citizens are employed by a single company, thus creating a similar situation to a company town (especially in regard to the town's economy).
One of the first company towns in the United States was Pullman, Chicago, developed in the 1880s just outside the Chicago city limits. The town, entirely company-owned, provided housing, markets, a library, churches and entertainment for the 6,000 company employees and an equal number of dependents. Employees were required to live in Pullman, despite the fact that cheaper rentals could be found in nearby communities. In 1898 the Illinois Supreme Court required Pullman to dissolve their ownership of the town.
In the present-day United States, it is relatively rare for any place in which a single company owns all the property to be granted status as an incorporated municipality. Rather, companies will normally prefer their wholly owned communities to remain unincorporated as this permits administration of the community to be carried out by appointed company officers rather than elected officials. However, there are incorporated municipalities that are heavily dependent upon a single industry or organization and may be loosely considered a "company town", even though the company does not technically own the town. In this vein, Washington, DC is sometimes called "America's biggest company town" because of the federal government's dominance.
A different type of company town has appeared in the U.S. since the 1960s, where real estate companies started developing uninhabited tracts of unincorporated lands into huge master-planned communities. These can be called company towns since they were not developed as part of a city, but completely on their own. Often these towns then grow into full fledged cities and then become incorporated, such as Irvine, California. By contrast, The Woodlands, Texas is an example of a still growing company town that might be annexed by nearby Houston in the foreseeable future.
The adjacent cities of Bay Lake, and Lake Buena Vista, near Orlando, Florida are most widely known as the location of Walt Disney World Resort. Being company towns, they are entirely owned by Disney-related companies. A few token persons reside on the site; all are employees of Disney.