DURHAM – Google’s decision to create an engineering hub with 1,000 employees in Downtown Durham is good news for the city and the region but also poses some risks, says a Duke University professor and author who focuses on economic development issues.

“Google’s recent announcement about its hopes to grow its presence in Durham is an exciting one with potentially positive effects that could ripple out through the larger Triangle,” says John Quinterno, who teaches at the Sanford School of Public Policy.

“This announcement is in many ways a testament to our region’s strengths, which include a highly educated working-age population, a concentration of excellent public and private universities and technical colleges, a core of leading engineering and computer science firms, a culture of collaborative civic leadership, and a pleasing quality of life.”

In comments provided through the university news service, Quinterno balanced his positve news with caution.

“{a}s with any proposed project of this size, the details matter, and if they are not considered carefully by civic leaders, this project could turbocharge the issues of displacement and gentrification with which Durham has been struggling,” Quinterno, who is principal of South by North Strategies, a research firm specializing in economic and social policy and author of “Running the Numbers: A Practical Guide to Regional Economic and Social Analysis.”

John Quinterno (Duke University photo)

He then cited four key points:

“First, while Google says it could add as many as 1,000 jobs over a period of years, those positions may not materialize. It is hardly unusual for a firm to quietly change announced expansion plans due to changes in the business environment or shifts in corporate strategy.

“Second, unusual for a project of this size, the announcement made no mention of the provision of public subsidies by the state, county or city. Perhaps no subsidies will be involved, or perhaps those items are under discussion and will be announced later. If subsidies do come into play, they will need to be weighed carefully since they represent a potentially sizable transfer of public resources from the community at large to a favored firm and its employees,” Quinterno says.

“Third, who will benefit from this expansion? Ideally, the jobs would go to local residents, graduates of the area’s colleges and universities, and people trained through the public workforce system. If most of the best paying jobs are reserved for people transferring to Durham while local residents have access only to relatively lower-paying positions, the expansion will exacerbate economic disparities.”

“Finally, a project of this size can have a destabilizing effect on a community. A rapid infusion of people with highly lucrative jobs will put upward pressure on housing prices and living costs, which will fuel the processes of residential displacement and gentrification -processes that place disproportionate burdens on the shoulders of existing residents of modest means and widen racial and class inequities.”

Google picks Durham for engineering hub, aims to create 1,000 jobs