DURHAM – Hundreds of people gathered at Carolina Theatre on Wednesday to hear economic leaders discuss the state of Durham and the city’s economic progress as part of “The Durham Show.”

While acknowledging the negative imprint left on many businesses from the COVID-19 pandemic, leaders still expressed optimism for where Durham is heading.

WRAL spoke with several people linked to Durham’s growing business scene, including councilman & business owner Leonardo Williams. Williams said the chamber’s event was pivotal because it reintroduced how the city is going to move forward.

The gathering gave economic stalwarts a chance to celebrate the thousands of jobs and more than $463 million in investments announced last year.

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“We are in the phase of the bounce back,” Williams said. “We were moved our mask mandate to where we can now talk about mitigating safety. That gives us the flexibility to talk about how do we go out to shop, dine, work, play, live.”

Durham County lifted its mask mandate for most indoor settings on Monday.

“What we’re doing now is we’re pivoting on how we are going to put Covid behind us and prosperity before us,” Williams said.

Williams noted the tension in Ukraine, where businesses in America are starting to feel an economic impact.

“What’s important for us is to is to continue to support local,” said Nicole Thompson, CEO of Durham Downtown, Inc. “Continue to find those opportunities for the folks who have been here and have called this home for so many years.”

Ryan Regan, the vice president of economic development at the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce, said that since early April 2020, Durham County landed 14 economic development projects. The projects will involve the creation of 150 or more jobs from new or expanding firms. In total, Regan said the region will net 6,900 new jobs from those announcements.

The county’s population is expected to grow to almost 450,000 over the next 25 years, according to research from the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro 2045 Metropolitan Transportation Plan.