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Since starting my placement at the Durham Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD), I’ve been thinking a lot about about small businesses and their role in the community. Before this summer, I had primarily heard the phrase “small business” being used as a talking point by campaigning politicians. But after three weeks at the OEWD, I’ve learned extensively about just important small business is to Durham’s economy, as well as some of the challenges that small business owners face in starting and growing their businesses.

I have spent much of our time this summer working on the Economic Development project. My tasks have included researching policies that help small business in Durham. The project is focusing on helping minority- and women-owned businesses. To accomplish this, we are creating a report that recommends specific policy suggestions for Durham, conducting a small business survey, and creating a website for business owners to conveniently access information on how to start a small business.

At first, I thought that all cities have loan programs and provide networking opportunities for local entrepreneurs. However, as I did more research, I learned that a lack of access to capital is a big roadblock for people, particularly women and people of color, in starting a business. I also learned that granting city contracts to local businesses is an effective way that government can reinvest millions of dollars back into the community. However, city contracts are disproportionately granted to business owners who are white and male, and people will leverage these past relationships with the city to procure future opportunities.

I also learned that the positive impacts of supporting small business do not just stop at the business owners–they radiate out into the community and bring people together! This past weekend, a friend and I went to the Durham Food Truck Rodeo at Durham Central Park.

Durham Central Park mural overlooking pedestrians and food trucks
The mural at Durham Central Park overlooking the food truck festival

We got there around 2:30, and the park was still crowded with families, dogs, and food trucks. All kinds of food, from tacos to Korean barbecue to gyros, were available, courtesy of local businesses. A local band, The Up and Up, provided live funk music, the soundtrack to an afternoon of food and nice weather. By bringing together so many local businesses, Durham Central Park creates a space for community members to gather and enjoy an afternoon together. Events like make a mid-sized city like Durham feel like a much smaller town. Each weekend I spend in Durham makes me feel less like just a Duke student and more like a member of the Durham community.

Pedestrians and food trucks lining Foster St
A shot of Foster St, filled with food trucks and visitors