2 min read September 2023 — In an interview with Invest:, Geoff Durham, president and CEO of the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce, discussed the economic landscape and opportunities for business growth. The Chamber’s priorities include talent development, promoting diversity and ensuring equitable growth.
How would you describe the economic landscape in the Greater Durham region and what opportunities do you foresee for business growth and development?
North Carolina has been recognized for the second year in a row as the best place for business and the top state in the country for business. In Durham, our success can be attributed to our strategic position within the region, as well as the benefits of operating in a business-friendly state. However, the pandemic presented challenges for numerous small businesses across the country, including those in Durham. Despite this, some key industries experienced sustained and even accelerated growth during that time.
Our state remains a stronghold in life sciences, with continuous expansion in clean tech, advanced manufacturing and electric vehicles, particularly in the manufacturing of silicon carbide used for EV batteries and microchips. These industry sectors are emerging as our leading areas of development. The IT sector is also performing exceptionally well, as evidenced by significant announcements from tech giants such as Google and Meta, which have set up shop here.
As we navigate through a new post-pandemic economy, our higher-education institutions, North Carolina Central University and Duke University, play a crucial role in nurturing and providing talent. This fuels investment from both new and existing companies choosing to establish or expand their operations in our region. This has contributed not only to our prominence in the Triangle but also to our continued success within the entire state.
What unique strengths and advantages does the city offer to businesses?
First and foremost, companies are interested in locating and reinvesting here because of the availability of skilled individuals. Durham boasts tremendous partnerships between Durham Tech, our Workforce Development Board and others, ensuring that our talent is well-prepared and appropriately trained with the right certifications, apprenticeships and even associate degrees to support various R&D and advanced degree job opportunities. We are effectively diversifying the entry points for different industries as they continue to grow. Talent, therefore, stands as our primary strength.
Secondly, the increasing appeal of Durham lies in our diversity and culture. It attracts companies not only from around the country but also from across the globe. Our efforts in promoting Durham’s unique culture go beyond merely being a startup and innovative community; we actively cultivate a diverse ecosystem that supports small businesses. This is precisely what draws national companies to our area. Furthermore, Durham’s reputation within the state and the nation aligns with corporate values that closely mirror the values of our community. Consequently, we maintain a highly attractive environment for companies to establish their presence.
What are the main priorities for the Chamber and how are these priorities being translated into initiatives and programs?
Our largest focus will center around the continued trajectory of growth. Economic development work, including recruitment and the establishment of a sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystem, will remain a top priority. It’s not just about recruiting new companies; we also want to ensure that our existing businesses have the right environment to thrive and expand. Additionally, we place great emphasis on investing in small and minority businesses to ensure equitable growth as our economy prospers.
Talent development is a crucial aspect that goes hand in glove with our growth efforts. Fortifying the education pipeline is critical to maximizing our potential and we need to effectively communicate opportunities to all our educational and training partners. Aligning curricula with employer needs is essential.
Given the size of Durham, which is one-third the size of Wake County, we recognize the heightened importance of certain community leadership aspects. While the Chamber may not take the lead in these areas, we provide support services and advocacy for various issues, such as cultural preservation, housing accessibility, transportation and social determinants of health. These factors are vital as we continue to grow. We aim to foster inclusive growth and ensure that our efforts have a positive impact on the entire community.
What are some of the challenges the city is facing and how is the Chamber addressing them?
With significant growth over a sustained period, our focus lies on accessibility — both for people and places. Ensuring that our community is well-prepared and has clear career pathways to seize these opportunities are the two primary aspects we’ll be working on. It’s crucial for us to be fully prepared and ready as a community to not only attract these businesses but also support them in achieving their growth and hiring objectives. And again, we are here to help our community be prepared for and access these good paying jobs.
Looking ahead, what is your outlook for the business community and the Chamber over the next two to three years?
For us and our growth trajectory, we envision a continuing evolution in our industry sectors. This doesn’t mean that life sciences or IT will disappear; rather, they will evolve and adapt in the dynamic environment of the Triangle. With three Tier 1 research institutes and 10 colleges and universities, research is embedded in all aspects of their work. This creates an innovative community that is always seeking change and improvement. Therefore, we must stay ahead and ensure that our training institutions, including community colleges, are well-prepared to adapt their curricula as industries grow.
We have reengaged and leveraged the work of our foundation, reinvigorating its focus on community leadership. This ensures that we, as a chamber, are adequately prepared to match the pace of our community’s growth. Durham has rapidly transformed from a partner to the larger Raleigh market to a national and global player in economic growth. As a chamber, we must reflect the business community we serve, adapting to the changes brought about by population growth, increased investment and expanding industries.
We must ensure that this growth is equitable and that’s where much of our foundation’s efforts will be concentrated. Our focus will be on fostering inclusive growth, making sure that every aspect of our community benefits from this progress. By addressing these three aspects, evolving industries, community leadership and equitable growth, we aim to continue driving Durham’s economic success.
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