Job growth consistent, chamber says

Feb. 14, 2013 @ 07:18 PM

There were 2,471 jobs expected to be created from business expansions or locations  announced for Durham County last year, the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce announced at the group’s annual meeting Thursday.

The 58 companies that announced openings or expansions here were expected to add $503 million in investments. Michael Schoenfeld, Duke University’s vice president of public affairs and government relations, and the chair of the chamber’s board, presented the numbers at the meeting.

Casey Steinbacher, the chamber’s president and CEO, said the county has had about the same number of jobs created, but from fewer companies. So the same amount of investment and jobs last year came from a larger number of companies making an investment, she said.      

“What we’re seeing is the same amount of investment, but what we’re seeing is more companies doing smaller investments,” she said.

Thursday’s gathering was expected to draw about 700 people to the Sheraton Imperial Hotel and Convention Center, said Sheena Johnson Cooper, a spokeswoman for the chamber. Last year, there fewer than 900 attended the meeting.

Duke head basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski was presented with the chamber’s 2012 Civic Honor Award. This year, longtime Durham city councilman Howard Clement III received the award.

Schoenfeld said key initiatives for the chamber in 2013 include aligning supply and demand for talented workers here by facilitating connections between businesses, government and nonprofits, as well as partnering in the effort to redesign the Research Triangle Park.

 Park officials unveiled last year a new master plan for the park that incorporates three proposed clusters of new, higher-density development. The first planned development cluster includes restaurants and residential space.

Schoenfeld also said the chamber is continuing to help advocate for affordable, high speed broadband access, as well as to push the area as the “destination of choice” for innovators.

Chamber leaders are “emboldened” by success, he said, of a competition a former chamber staff member partnered to create for entrepreneurs called the “Smoffice” that was launched last year, he said. A team of three sisters were selected for the competition to launch The Makery, a website that would feature sales of local art.

The contest offered a chance for a selected entrepreneur to occupy “the word’s smallest office” - a free, 50-square-foot office space in the front of Beyu Caffe on Main Street in downtown Durham.

The competition landed the chamber as one of five finalists for a “best unconventional project” award in the International Chamber of Commerce World Chambers Competition.

Schoenberg also said chamber officials are looking to reinvent how it “convenes people” and creates new ideas. Upcoming events he named included a business expo at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park at which he said the plan is to fill the baseball diamond with thousands of people, and create the Guinness World Records world’s largest business networking event.

“We’ve contacted Guinness to find out what we need to do,” he said. “Our thought process is, rather than doing a bunch of little events. We’re going to have a few, but bigger events.”