DURHAM, N.C.—Downtown, sprawling factories are constant reminders of this city’s past life. A few decades ago these massive buildings were owned by tobacco companies and bustling with blue-collar workers. After the tobacco business contracted in the second half of the 20th century, and factory jobs disappeared or were relocated, the buildings—and much of Durham’s downtown—were abandoned.
Now, the city is in the midst of an ongoing, carefully orchestrated plan to boost the economy. These vast spaces are once again teeming with with jobs and workers, but of a completely different variety: white-collar entrepreneurs hoping to make Durham a major destination for start-up ventures.
This did not happen by chance. After the decline of Durham’s manufacturing, the city found itself in need of a revamped economy. Luckily, it had the tools to build one: massive amounts of open, unused office space thanks to the abandoned tobacco manufacturing plants, low (at the time) property prices, and proximity to illustrious academic institutions. So the local government started courting start-ups. In 2011 the city’s Chamber of Commerce launched programs providing free office space, wi-fi, and start-up advice to new companies. That same year the governor of North Carolina implemented a tax credit for developing businesses in the city, geared toward interactive digital media. The Chamber of Commerce has also offered monetary compensation for opening up businesses in the downtown district, and for creating jobs.