In the second of a three-part interview with Capitol Broadcasting Company CEO Jim Goodmon – a driving force in the rebirth of Durham – talks about what he believes were the keys to the two-decade project.

“There’s no magic here,” he says.

The factors include hard work, an active creative class and an increasing diverse population.

As part of WRALTechWire’s continuing “New Bull City” series, Goodmon recalls drawing inspiration from author Richard Florida about the “Creative Class.” To rebuild Durham required much more than money, concrete, steel and buildings. Goodmon says creating a “sense of place” was essential. As evidenced by the first “Paradoxos” cultural, entertainment and business event – Durham’s fledgling version of Austin’s famous South By Southwest – Durham leaders keep advancing a diverse development agenda.

Durham’s New “Sense of Place”

Where cigarettes once were made and stored today a host of companies from technology to arts to advertising to banking and venture capital now turn out new intellectual products. While the smell of golden leaf may never be completely gone, the more dominant aroma now is from a mix of restaurant cuisine that contributes to Durham’s history as a savory place to dine. The pleasant noise of running water from the man-made “Old Bull River” that channels two streams through the heart of the open area of the complex gives it the appeal of a park.

Combined, the DBAP, Diamond View the American Tobacco project plus another earlier renovation at Brightleaf Square helped ignite developers’ interest in properties across downtown where former tobacco properties and historic buildings were gutted and reborn.

How odd yet so symbolic, for example, is the fact that the Venable tobacco building is now home to leading-edge life science research.

Then there are the sparkling new structures, symbolized by the Durham Performing Arts Center.

So what has been the “secret sauce” – a term so often used to describe new technology fueling startups – igniting the rebirth of Durham?

Actually, there’s no secret recipe, says Goodmon.

“I don’t have any magic formula,” he insists. ”There’s nothing mysterious about it. It’s just a lot of hard work and people helping to achieve a goal,” he explains. “The goal was to create a sense of place. That’s a term a people like to use.”

Restaurants (Cuban Revolution, The District at 410, L’Uva Enoteca, Mellow Mushroom, Saladelia, Tyler’s Tap Room, Tobacco Road Sports Cafe) abound at American Tobacco. The former power plant is now a theater. Outdoor concerts (@The Stack) add to the atmosphere. The food and entertainment mirror restaurants, bars, cafes, the Carolina Theater and other entertainment venues around downtown. Then there is DPAC, a Broadway for the South.

Durham’s “Creative Class”

All contributed to that “sense of place” Goodmon referenced, and the “sense” revolves one crucial factor, he stresses several times in the interview.

“The key to a lot of things going on in Durham is its diversity,” Goodmon declares.

“These young entrepreneurs are a very diverse group of very open minded people. This is an eclectic group of folks, and I think they enjoy living and working in this city.

“Durham got an award as the most tolerant city in the U.S., and that has [tolerance] has created the atmosphere for success.”

Census data reflects Goodmon’s point.

According to government estimates in 2011, the percentage of minorities in Durham increased from 2008 as the city’s overall population grew to more than 233,000 – an increase of nearly 10,000:

  • The city’s African American population grew to 41 percent from 40.4 percent.
  • Hispanics make up 14.2 percent of the population, an increase from 12.2 percent.
  • Asians represent 5.1 percent of the city’s residents, up from 4.3 percent.
  • The white population, meanwhile, declined to 42.5 percent from 44.9 percent.
  • The percentage of foreign-born residents as of 2011 was estimated at 14.6 percent – twice as high as the state-wide average.

Durham is a relatively young city as well with 55 percent of the population ranging between 20 and 54 years of age, according to census estimates. That’s up 3 percentage points from 2008.

The buildings provide the places for these younger, more diverse people to work and to be entertained.

“It’s fun to go there, and I think it’s fun to work there,” Goodmon explains.

“It’s really fun to be in a building that has so much history. I think you feel more grounded.”

While Goodmon was speaking directly about the American Tobacco complex, the same is said by others quoted in this series who work at Brightleaf, at Venable, in downtown.

The Creative Class

A recent study as cited in WRALTechWire’s series documents Durham’s standing as a home to a creative class economy that embraces arts, culture, entertainment and much more – not just technology or life science.

Seeing Durham’s diversity and its creative culture appealed to Goodmon from the earliest days of launching his own role in trying to rebuild the city.

“I was first introduced the concept of the creative class by Richard Florida who wrote that the most successful regions, the most successful cities are those that did the best job of embracing diversity,” Goodmon recalls.

“That’s when I started thinking about Richard Florida and we started this project in Durham. There was all kinds of things there already – entertainment, culture, arts.”

Florida defines the creative class this way:

“A fast-growing, highly educated, and well-paid segment of the workforce on whose efforts corporate profits and economic growth increasingly depend. Members of the creative class do a wide variety of work in a wide variety of industries—from technology to entertainment, journalism to finance, high-end manufacturing to the arts. They do not consciously think of themselves as a class. Yet they share a common ethos that values creativity, individuality, difference, and merit.”

As The New Bull City series has pointed out, Durham’s economy includes a vibrant mixture of software, creative arts, finance and life science companies. Its office and retail space are in demand, producing higher average rents than in downtown Raleigh, according to a Colliers International report.

Growth has spread across seven specific areas, from American Tobacco to City Center, the Government Services district, Central Park, Golden Belt, the Warehouse District and Brightleaf.

“More and more businesses understand that [creative class] ethos and are making the adaptations necessary to attract and retain creative class employees – everything from relaxed dress codes, flexible schedules, and new work rules in the office to hiring recruiters who throw Frisbees,” Florida wrote. “Most civic leaders, however, have failed to understand that what is true for corporations is also true for cities and regions: Places that succeed in attracting and retaining creative class people prosper; those that fail don’t.”

Says Goodmon: Durham’s leaders have recognized the power of the creative class – and embraced it.

Florida himself has recognized Durham’s efforts. In 2012, Durham topped his “America’s Leading Creative Class Metro” list.

“Durham, North Carolina, where the creative class makes up 48.4 percent of the workforce, tops the list,” Florida wrote. It’s onen of only 12 metros topping the 40 percent mark.

Remembering the History

In view of history over the past two decades, it’s easy to forget just how much of a gamble Goodmon took with his Durham business play.

We’ll explore the history in Part Three of our interview. 

Part one of the Goodmon interview is available online to WRALTechWire Insiders.