Duke’s fund raising lifts city

Aug. 12, 2014 @ 04:32 PM

In 2012-2013, contributions to Duke University set a record –$410.9 million in philanthropic giving.

That may have seemed breathtaking, but we hope you saved some breath for this year’s announcement. Duke said this week that donors had given another record, $441.8 million, in the year that ended June 30. Four years into the seven-year Duke Forward campaign to raise $3.25 billion, the school’s efforts are at a healthy $2.17 billion toward that goal.

Those numbers should be exciting if only because we love to see a local institution doing well – sort of like vicariously enjoying a national championship in basketball, a first-ever 10-win season in football or a Nobel laureate.

But Duke’s money-raising success should resonate in this community for other, more concrete reasons as well.

Already one of the top private research universities in the nation, Duke’s academic stature burnishes Durham’s brand and contributes to the city’s economic, cultural and social vitality.

The Duke Forward funds will further elevate Duke’s prominence. They will, as a Duke news release summarized it, “enrich the student experience in and out of the classroom, invest in exceptional faculty and support research and initiatives focused on training leaders to address some of society’s most pressing challenges.”

And, as the Triangle Business Journal’s annual list of the Triangle’s top employers reminds us, Duke is the region’s top employer. In fact, its 36,000 employees are roughly equal to the total Triangle employment of the next five largest employers (IBM, Wake Med Raleigh, Food Lion, Rex Healthcare and Cisco Systems) combined. Duke is, according to the N. C. Department of Commerce, the second-largest private employer in the state. Its head count has grown by one-third in the past decade.

That means the university and its medical complex are an enormous – and relatively recession-proof -- economic engine. As we’ve mused before, Durham and the Triangle region today are the beneficiaries of decisions made more than 75 years ago – when James B. Duke renamed and endowed the modest Trinity College – and more than a half-century ago when Gov. Luther Hodges and a cohort of business leaders from Durham and across the state conceived the Research Triangle Park. That park owes its existence to their vision – and to the presence of Duke, UNC Chapel Hill and N. C. State as elite research institutions.

Duke and RTP had already laid the groundwork for a completely different economy here when the tobacco and textile industries – whose magnates in their heyday had done so much to launch both – collapsed. Far too many towns and cities in our state struggle to this day with the gloomy aftermath of that collapse, even as Durham surges forward.

Duke President Richard Brodhead, in the school’s release on contributions, said he wanted “to express how grateful we are for the extraordinary support we’ve received this year.”

For many reasons, the larger community, too, should be grateful.