A UNC and Town of Chapel Hill partnership is working to increase the economic impact from UNC on the town and the Triangle.

The Carolina Economic Development Strategy seeks to bring UNC affiliated businesses to downtown Chapel Hill through new infrastructure built for office spaces. The initiative hopes to develop talent, translate innovation and create vibrant places in the community.

Doug Rothwell is the executive-in-residence for economic development at UNC and one of the people chairing the Carolina Economic Development Strategy. He explained the initiative’s goals to increase revenue for many struggling businesses from COVID-19, but also expanding the town’s appeal for years to come.

It’s the idea of developing a plan that will guide future development in downtown Chapel Hill and that we do it in a way that makes sense for the character of what this beautiful place is like,” Rothwell said.

Part of the initiative includes working to get businesses to relocate or start their companies in Downtown Chapel Hill. Being near a top five public research university, Rothwell said, allows those businesses to work more closely with faculty and attract graduates for positions from UNC.

“If you’re here, you’re going to get first dibs on those folks,” Rothwell said. “I think the idea would be that in a small town like this, you can really have a lot of interconnections with businesses like yours that are striving to innovate, and that exchange of ideas really makes an ecosystem like this work so well.” 

New infrastructure along East Rosemary Street includes constructing a new parking deck, office space and greenery area. With the development completed Rothwell said residents could expect increased foot traffic for restaurants, retail shops and bars. He said this could help many struggling places which rely on student revenue alone or one day events like football games.

“It’s hard to survive if that’s the only business that you’re getting, and so if we can get more office workers downtown that’s going to really create the demand,” Rothwell said. “That will not only help the businesses that are here, but also hopefully  attract additional retailers to fill up some of those empty storefronts as well. “

The infrastructure is not the only addition to the economic initiative – residents could also see increased beautification of Chapel Hill. This includes planter boxes along Franklin, artwork, colorful crosswalks, and power washing sidewalks.

Rothwell said he hopes to see some beautification improvements finished by this spring. It could help the Carolina Economic Development Strategy in their efforts to recruit businesses over the summer and have them move into the space by the end of 2021.


Photo via the Town of Chapel Hill.

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