Durham leaders say the Google engineering hub moving to downtown will have considerable economic impact by offering high wages to local residents and generating new business growth, particularly for Black and Brown startups.

“These hubs always generate significant contracting opportunities for smaller tech and service businesses wherever they are,” Mayor Steve Schewel told the INDY

However, Schewel says the high-tech behemoth’s presence will inevitably lead to more gentrification and could place pressure on low-income residents, long-term renters, and homeowners.

The mayor says that even though Google intends to hire locally, such as graduates of Durham Tech, “inevitably some of the 1,000 Google hub jobs will go to people moving here.”

“This is additional gentrification pressure,” Schewel added. “It is important to keep this in perspective, however. Already, 7,000 new people move to Durham annually. So the 1,000 Google employees, even if a significant number move here from out of town, will add to that, but they won’t be a huge factor.”

Nate Baker, who is a member of the Durham City-County Planning Commission, agrees Google’s pending arrival in downtown “is incredibly exciting and presents enormous opportunities for the betterment of our community, if planned and managed well.”

But Baker adds that “low-income residents are rightfully concerned that this will fast-track gentrification and displacement and expedite environmentally unsustainable growth throughout Durham. How many poor people in Durham do you think jumped for joy at the announcement of these jobs?”

A Google spokesman told the INDY after the announcement of the new hub that the company intends to primarily hire Triangle residents, who will be initially working in networking, storage, data and analytics, along with systems infrastructure.

The hub “will be primarily composed of new hires from the area versus Googlers moving from other sites,” the spokesman added.  

Google officials said the Bull City was selected “in order to benefit from the region’s diverse, world-class talent to support growing customer demand for its enterprise products and solutions.”

Geoff Durham, president and CEO of the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce, says Google’s plan is great news for small startups.

“Big job announcements like this bolster all facets of our community, and we know the intentionality with which Google will grow in Durham will benefit our residents, small businesses, and other companies and organizations,” Durham said in a statement to the INDY

Durham County Commissioner Vice-Chair Wendy Jacobs agreed, saying Google’s move to downtown is a great opportunity for residents to land well-paying jobs.

Google’s presence in the downtown district may be of even greater significance for Black and Latinx startups.

A 2018 report by Downtown Durham, Inc., found that businesses owned by people of color accounted for less than four percent of enterprises in the downtown district.

Schewel and Jacobs are hoping Google lives up to its promise of equity in hiring.

“Google knows we have incredibly talented people here in Durham and I am excited about their stated commitment to focus on local hiring, racial equity, and the hiring of Black and Latinx residents,” Jacobs told the INDY.

The mayor added that city leaders and others “need to make sure that Durham’s local Black and Brown-owned businesses will be able to be part of that contracting.”

“Google has expressed that one of their major reasons for wanting to be in Durham is our diverse and inclusive culture, and they want to support that,” Schewel says. “That is what their employees and management want. Contracting with Durham’s local minority-owned businesses will be essential if Google is to truly support this Durham culture.”

Durham, the chamber of commerce president, agreed. 

“Google’s announcement is a big deal for Durham, the Research Triangle, and North Carolina. Innovation, collaboration, diversity, and inclusivity are the pillars of our economy, and Google fits right in,” he said.

Durham says local businesses and their partners are excited by the prospect of Google joining the district’s economic mix, and he looks forward to the entities continuing “to build a thriving community where opportunities abound and our culture is on full display.”

Google Cloud officials last week touted its community program “Grow With Google,” which provides free tools and training to the state’s historically Black colleges and universities, YMCAs and YWCAs, along with Boys & Girls Clubs.

According to the press release, “Grow With Google” has trained over 8,200 North Carolina job seekers and small businesses in digital skills as well as hundreds of transitioning service members, spouses, and military vets in partnership with Fort Bragg, Camp Lejeune, and the United Service Organizations.

The company also noted it helps host the annual Black Founders Exchange, an immersion, mentorship, and networking program that brings together startup leaders of color from around the nation.

Google’s hub will first set up in space subleased in the downtown district under an agreement with Duke University. The high-tech giant is currently evaluating several locations for its eventual permanent home. 

“Right now, Google has a small downtown office, and they are searching now for a larger facility which will need at least 100,000 square feet, and in the future significantly more,” Schewel said. 

The mayor added that with the addition of more office towers going up downtown over the next several years, he’s hopeful that Google’s engineering hub will be tenants in one of those buildings. 

“I think that is the best place for this kind of large employment center—downtown, where we want density, where the city is most walkable, and where we have the infrastructure,” he said.

Baker, the planning commission member, says that “the battle for a sustainable and equitable city will be won or lost by how we manage our growth and, unfortunately, Durham has quite a bit of room for improvement when it comes to growth management, housing, land use, and transportation issues. We’re building for cars and traffic, not people and places, and there is an urgent need to change that. This opportunity shows us how important growth management really is.”

Baker adds that the city and county need to capitalize on this opportunity to demand significant public goods that offset the impacts Google will have on the community “and make it better for residents, especially when it comes to affordable housing.”

Schewel notes that “with the pandemic, we already have many people moving here from the more expensive cities of both coasts because of our livability and quality of life. This is driving our real estate prices up at a rapid rate, even more rapidly than in the last couple years.”

Schewel called it an “enormous problem” for the city. 

“We are making Herculean efforts to build and preserve affordable housing, but these efforts will never be enough to counter all the market forces,” he says.” We can make a huge difference in housing for thousands of people in Durham with our affordable housing work, but we won’t ever have enough money to subsidize ourselves out of this situation.”

Follow Durham Staff Writer Thomasi McDonald on Twitter or send an email to tmcdonald@indyweek.com.

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