DURHAM – Aspiring to “The Show” was key to the movie classic “Bull Durham.” Now there’s a new show – “The Durham Show” – but it has little to do with baseball. Business. Big business.

Ahead of its annual meeting on Wednesday, the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce’s top economic development exec sat down to talk about the state of the local economy and recent economic development wins with WRAL TechWire.

Top of mind?

The nearly 4,000 jobs and greater than $463 million in investment announced last year, across just 14 total projects.

There’s a lot to celebrate, which is one focus of the annual meeting titled “The Durham Show.”


Ryan Regan, the vice president of economic development at the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce, notes that since early April 2020 Durham County landed 14 economic development projects that will involve the creation of 150 or more jobs from new or expanding firms.

In total, said Regan, the region will net 6,900 new jobs from those 14 announcements.  “This degree of economic development success is without precedent in Durham County’s history,” Regan told WRAL TechWire.

A lightly edited Q&A with Regan follows.

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WRAL TechWire (TW): Catch us up to speed on economic development “wins” in the last year. 

Regan: In 2021, there were 3,965 announced new jobs associated with economic development projects in Durham County.

Total announced capital investment from these projects exceeded $463 million.

One example is Smart Wires, Inc., which announced in July that it will move their corporate headquarters and build a new research and development facility in Durham County.

Smart Wires is a cleantech company that works to improve the efficiency of electric transmission grids.  The Durham facility will employ 250 people who will be hired over the next five years.

Additional 2021 Economic Development Announcement Details, Courtesy of the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce.

Durham’s economy

TW: What is the state of Durham’s labor market?  How has the population changed?  Are there any measured changes in household income or other economic indicators, within the region?

Regan: The macroeconomic indicators specific to Durham County are quite strong. The unemployment rate in December 2021 was 2.6%, the lowest it has been since 1999, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The poverty rate for all residents has fallen 5.4 percentage points since 2015 and the poverty rate for children under 18 years of age has fallen nearly 10 points since 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

And, the average wage for private sector jobs in Durham County is $82,247–the highest of all North Carolina counties, according to the North Carolina Department of Commerce Labor & Economic Analysis Division.

But, the overall picture is more complicated, however, given the labor force peculiarities that arose during the COVID-era.

Our economic development successes in recent years have been significant, and we are committed to working with our various workforce development and small business partners to ensure that all Durham County residents are able to connect to this growth story.

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Where will all these people live?

TW: As new jobs are created, how might the region best prepare and/or provide access to housing that would be affordable across the income distribution?

Regan: The availability and affordability of housing is and will continue to be a critical factor in supporting our economic growth.

Our public partners are important allies in this conversation, and we appreciate their leadership on the issue. With the help of the approved $95 million affordable housing bond, local partners will build and preserve thousands of affordable housing units in coming years for Durham residents.

The County is pursuing their own solutions as well, most notably by wrapping affordable housing around 2 new parking decks in downtown Durham.

It will take a creative approach by public and private partners to solve the housing shortage we currently face.  One successful creative public/private approach can be seen in the HUB RTP development.

This Durham County-supported project will include 1,200 new apartment units, and it marks the first time in the over 60-year history of the Park that people will be able to live at RTP.

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Future of our local economy?

TW: What changes to the local economy might we expect in 2022?

Regan: There are some transformational real estate development projects that will break ground or gain further momentum in 2022.

The HUB RTP development is a first-of-its-kind mixed-use development coming to the Research Triangle Park.

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The expansion of downtown’s American Tobacco Campus will infuse an already attractive section of downtown Durham with enhanced live, work, play amenities. [Editor’s Note: Capitol Broadcasting Company, the parent of WRAL TechWire, also owns American Tobacco Campus.]

These two development projects by themselves will add almost 2.5 million square feet of office, residential, retail, lab space, and hotel space to the local market.

The developments will anchor the next decade of growth in Durham County.

The commercial space that both projects will add to our market in coming years is critical as we seek to maintain an edge in the race for talent and jobs over competitor communities across the country.

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Most notable wins?

TW: What are the most notable economic development projects announced recently, and why?

Regan: Google’s announcement that they would bring a 1,000-employee cloud engineering hub to Durham is certainly the most noteworthy recent economic development announcement.

Having such a prominent member of the global business community invest in such a significant way in Durham is a big deal. The symbolism of their decision is also important.

Google didn’t just choose Durham, they chose downtown Durham. Google’s decision will be a boon for the downtown economy and help small businesses who struggled during the Covid era get back on their feet.

The multiple expansion announcements from Fidelity Investments last year (2,250 jobs, cumulatively) are also very impactful.

To see a long-time member of the local business community expanding so rapidly speaks volumes about our community’s overall competitiveness.

Fidelity Investments’ recent announcements are especially noteworthy since they have focused recruitment efforts on entry level jobs that are accessible to a broad swath of prospective workers, including those most impacted by Covid-related job losses.

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What’s going well?

TW: What areas of Durham’s economy and what sectors of industry are doing well – which ones are not doing so well – where is there opportunity?

Regan: The high degree of educational attainment among Durham County residents combined with the reputation of the Research Triangle Park and the abundance of local and regional higher education assets, helps to fuel strong growth locally in high-skill sectors like Life Sciences and Tech.

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The biopharmaceuticals industry is a “legacy” industry in Durham that has long been the backbone of the local economy.

This industry has a location quotient of 12.8 in Durham County, meaning that the industry is almost 13 times more concentrated in the County than it is nationally.

This incredibly high LQ shows a clear competitive advantage for Durham which only solidified in recent years as investments in the Life Sciences accelerated domestically in response to the COVID pandemic.

The technology industry is the most ascendant industry in Durham.

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There was significant tumult in the global economy in 2020 as the economic effects of the pandemic set in, but the Tech industry in Durham County actually added 6,195 jobs from 2019 to 2020.

The number of jobs added in that industry was more than all other industries in the County combined. Those numbers don’t include Google’s announcement of 1,000 new tech jobs which came in 2021.

High-growth industries such as these create significant direct and indirect supply chain opportunities that benefit an array of local businesses.

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On education and workforce

TW: What’s the role that local educational institutions will play in the future of Durham’s workforce and economy?

Regan: Our local and regional educational partners are by far the biggest contributors to our recent economic development success.

Durham County and the Triangle Region are able to produce talent out of regional institutions in numbers that few other places in the country can match.

The inherent diversity of the student populations at Durham educational institutions is also a major asset as more and more companies focus their efforts on tapping into diverse talent pools.

Our higher education partners in the community are deeply connected to the needs of local businesses, and collectively, the two groups are working to prepare students for the jobs of today and tomorrow.

For example, NCCU’s state-of-the-art cybersecurity lab will prepare students for jobs in an industry that is rapidly growing in the Triangle Region.

Durham Tech likewise has a number of pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship arrangements with dozens of local employers that allow students to receive hands-on job training that can translate seamlessly to the working world after graduation.

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