Durham and Raleigh among best at stealing talent from other cities

Resurging downtown reshaping Durham’s skyline

Over the next few years, redevelopment in downtown Durham will reshape the skyline and add hundreds of office, retail and living spaces to the Bull City.
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Over the next few years, redevelopment in downtown Durham will reshape the skyline and add hundreds of office, retail and living spaces to the Bull City.

When it comes to attracting the brightest young workers from across the country, two of North Carolina’s fastest-growing cities, Durham and Raleigh, are outperforming most of the United States.

According to a new analysis by news and data company Bloomberg, both cities rank in the top 10 metropolitan areas that are beneficiaries of “brain drain” from other parts of the country. Brain drain is the term commonly given to the emigration of highly trained and educated people from one area to another.

The Bloomberg Brain Concentration Index measures the amount of business formation happening in cities with more than 100,000 residents, as well as the amount of employment and education in the sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Cities creating more technology-focused businesses and attracting workers with advanced degrees do well in the ranking, while towns with declining populations perform poorly in the analysis.

Raleigh and Durham ranked as the sixth- and seventh-best cities, according to the analysis.

Both have been among the fastest-growing metro areas in the state for the past decade. The Durham metropolitan area had the third-fastest growth of any area in the state from 2010 to 2016 at 10.9 percent, a rate that only trailed Raleigh (15.3 percent) and Charlotte (11.6 percent).

That growth isn’t expected to stop any time soon either, as the N.C. Office of State Budget and Management predicts Durham County will grow by 25,000 people every five years through 2035.

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‘Smart people’

Jared Pelo is one of the thousands of highly educated workers who have moved to the Durham area in recent years.

The University of Virginia graduate was working as a physician in southwest Virginia when he founded the medical transcription startup iScribes three years ago. He made the decision to move his young company from Virginia to Durham in part because of the co-working space American Underground, but also because of the plethora of talent located around the city.

He has roughly 20 workers now. “I needed engineers, a startup ecosystem and lots of smart people,” he said.

Pelo added that he had considered Charlottesville and Richmond but considered the former too small and the latter possessing too little talent.

“Durham had a much better ecosystem and talent base to draw from,” he said.

Raleigh and Durham’s gains in recent years have come while places like southwestern Virginia, the upper Midwest and eastern North Carolina lose educated workers, according to the analysis.

Goldsboro, located an hour southeast of Raleigh, was the fourth-worst performing city in the study.

Simply put, talent that has grown up in those regions is moving to jobs in places like the Triangle, Washington, D.C., and Colorado rather than returning home after earning degrees in fields like computer science and engineering or getting an MBA or a law degree.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 28.4 percent of North Carolinians have a bachelor’s degree or higher, while only 18.4 percent of people in Wayne County, where Goldsboro is located, have a college degree or higher. Nationally, around 30 percent of Americans have at least a bachelor’s degree, according to the Census.

Both Durham and Raleigh – home to respected universities – outperform the state significantly in terms of degree attainment. More than 45 percent of Durham County residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher, while 49 percent of Wake County residents have at least a bachelor’s degree, according to the Census.

There are several large-scale projects currently under construction or near completion in downtown Raleigh, with many more expected to follow suit in the coming months.

Zachery Eanes: 919-419-6684, @zeanes

Brain drain stats

Top 10 metro areas benefiting from “brain drain”:

Boulder, Colo.

San Francisco

San Jose, Calif.

Fort. Collins, Colo.

Washington, D.C.



Madison, Wisc.



Top 10 metro areas suffering from “brain drain”:

Muskegon, Mich.

Beckley, W.V.

Altoona, Penn.

Goldsboro, N.C.

Atlantic City, N.J.

Springfield, Ill.

Joplin, Mo.

Huntington, W.V.

Monroe, Mich.

Lima, Ohio