DURHAM – WeWork may have just moved into town, but it’s wasting no time getting involved in some community building.

On Wednesday night, at its official ribbon-cutting ceremony to usher in its new space at One City Center at 110 Concoran Street, the coworking space announced a strategic, public-private partnership with the City of Durham.

The target group: minority and women-led businesses.

The specifics have yet to be hammered out, but WeWork’s Southeast general manager Bobby Condon said the initiative would work to provide leadership training and office space to minority and female entrepreneurs in a bid to help them “grow and thrive” in downtown Durham.

“We just want to do our part as civic and business partners to the city to help highlight the tremendous amount of talent and growth that is here,” he said.

“We will be working closely together in the coming weeks to develop an initiative that will move the needle on minority business development, and shared economic prosperity for Durham. The two parties have shared collective ideas and full roll out will happen beginning of next year.”

Much work to be done

Mayor Steve Schewel, who was on hand for the announcement, admitted that the city has much work to do when it comes to this area.

“We’re on Black Wall Street right here. We’re living off that legacy, and we really don’t deserve to be,” he said, referring to the nickname Durham earned when African-American business prospered along Parrish Street in the early 1900s.

“Since the recession, Durham has not fulfilled the promise of Black Wall Street. Our African-American startups are behind most of the cities in North Carolina, and the rate of success for African-American businesses is lower than most cities in North Carolina.”

Mayor Steve Schewel participates in a “fireside chat” moderated by Leadership Triangle’s Executive Director, Jesica Averhart at WeWork’s new Durham coworking space.

While the city consistently meets its contract goals of awarding a certain share of construction work to minority-owned firms, he said, those companies are oftentimes based out of Raleigh and Morrisville.

“We need our minority businesses to be developed here,” he said.

Among the priorities: making sure minority businesses have access to capital and support in marketing, finance and accounting.

By doing so, Mayor Schewel argued, it would create a knock-on effect.

“Women are more likely to hire women, and minority employers are more likely to hire minorities. So one of the things about empowering these businesses and helping them to be successful is that we are also going to improve wages, job prospects for minorities and women, and that’s really important.”

That’s not only thing that’s in store for Durham. Separate to this initiative, Mayor Schewel said the city must continue to develop middle-skilled employment, housing affordability and, last but not least, transit.

“Think about our region 20 years from now. The question that you’ve got to ask yourselves is, ‘what kind of quality of life do you want?’ Most of the cities that get wrecked are because of cars. If we want to Durham to be the kind of city that we can be, we’ve got to have a light rail system. It will be an economic engine,” he said.

200-strong crowd

Around 200 people packed into WeWork’s new digs for the “fireside chat” with the mayor moderated by Leadership Triangle’s Executive Director, Jesica Averhart.

More than 300 people gathered for WeWork’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The 58,000-square-foot office occupies the fourth and fifth floors of the newly constructed 28-story building, boasting sweeping views of downtown Durham and the iconic American Tobacco tower.

WeWork, a global network of shared office space, already has an office space in Charlotte, and another is slated to open Raleigh in May, which means more competition for Raleigh-based HQ Raleigh and other coworking spaces across the Triangle.

Coworking wars: WeWork opens, intensifying Triangle competition among 20+ providers