Once a haven of tobacco manufacturing, Durham, N.C., is now filled with empty factories and an economy to match. However, Durham is betting big on its next economic plan: a hub for white-collar entrepreneurs hoping to start their businesses without the costs of Silicon Valley.
In 2011, Durham's Chamber of Commerce began providing free office space, wi-fi and entrepreneurial advice to fill its abandoned factories with people who were chasing down their dreams of economic success. The state and city have also offered tax credits and monetary compensation to attract young businesses.
But talk to anyone in Durham’s start-up sector and they’ll say that they have no desire to create a duplicate of the Bay Area, or even New York’s bustling tech-start-up sector. “We want to build the counter narrative to Silicon Valley,” Adam Klein, the chief strategist at American Underground and a former member of Durham’s Chamber of Commerce, tells me. Because Durham is a new entrant, part of a second wave of the start-up boom, some say that the city has both advantages and additional responsibilities when it comes to molding the local economy.
“Silicon Valley is thriving in terms of venture capital, but when you dig under the hood you see big companies aren’t able to move the needle on diversity,” Klein says. “We have the opportunity to build that right out of the gate, an inclusive technology hub for female and minority founders.”