Campus News

Carolina launches economic development strategy to revitalize downtown Chapel Hill

The strategy will build an innovation district downtown by recruiting businesses and research entities with a University-affinity, developing a set of support services and creating more opportunities for startups and growth-oriented companies to locate in Chapel Hill.

Downtown Chapel Hill at night in 2019. (Photo by Mark Losey/Town of Chapel Hill)

On March 24, the University and the Town of Chapel Hill announced the Carolina Economic Development Strategy, a new partnership to revitalize downtown and further economic development in Chapel Hill. The Strategy is a comprehensive initiative to increase Carolina’s economic impact in Chapel Hill and across the Triangle region by leveraging the University’s capabilities to develop talent, translate innovation and create vibrant places.

“The Carolina Economic Development Strategy positions us to act as a catalyst to retain, attract and grow more innovation-oriented companies and talent in Chapel Hill and North Carolina. We recognize our role as Chapel Hill’s largest employer, and we will work with our alumni, business and research partners to help us successfully implement this strategy here and across our state,” said Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz.

The strategy will build a plan to support the creation of downtown Chapel Hill as an innovation district by recruiting businesses and research entities with a University-affinity, developing a holistic set of support services and creating more opportunities for startups and growth-oriented companies to locate in Chapel Hill.

Downtown revitalization will begin with student-supported beautification efforts in downtown Chapel Hill and areas adjacent to campus, including enhanced landscaping, litter removal and other visual enhancements.

Under the guidance of an Economic Development Council appointed by the chancellor and through the town-gown partnership, downtown would become a part of a network of innovation hubs, identifying other areas of town and University-owned properties that can accommodate businesses and creating a dense population of innovation-oriented companies in Chapel Hill.

“Chapel Hill is fortunate to have the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and UNC Health as strong economic engines for our town,” said Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger. “In recent years we have taken several bold business development steps to reinvigorate commercial office space and create infrastructure in our downtown that will bring more office workers and visitors here year-round. With the revitalization of several downtown office buildings and construction of the East Rosemary Street Parking deck, we are seeing results. I am excited about working with the University to take things to the next level so that our downtown is one of the best places to locate a business.”

The economic value created by startups connected with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is notable, according to an analysis of Carolina’s commercial and social ventures. Since 1958, 786 Carolina-affiliated startups have been launched and these companies have raised a total of $17.6 billion in funding during that period. Of those nearly 800 startups, 313 were founded in Orange County and 193 are still active. Those 193 enterprises located in the greater Chapel Hill community employ more than 3,000 people and earned more than $300 million in revenue in 2020.

The strategy will be supported by an Economic Development Council of University leaders appointed by the chancellor that will be chaired by Doug Rothwell, Carolina’s executive-in-residence for economic development and through a town-gown partnership co-chaired by Mayor Hemminger and Rothwell.

Rothwell brings a career of state and municipal economic development experience, including the past 15 years as the president and CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan. He and his wife relocated to Chapel Hill several years ago, and he sits on the board of directors for the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership. Rothwell received his master’s degree in public administration from Carolina.

“The communities and universities that are able to accelerate the growth of innovation are going to be the leaders in the future,” Rothwell said. “The Carolina Economic Development Strategy is an exciting partnership that will invite innovation-oriented companies to reside in our community and position Carolina and the town of Chapel Hill to remain a world leader in research and innovation.”