Mitch Silver shares secrets to Raleigh, NC's success in attracting innovative companies and talent

Fayetteville StFayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh. Photo by Ted Buckner via Flickr.

Mitch Silver, Chief Planning and Economic Development Officer for Raleigh, NC, and member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council, is using a variety of smart growth tools to help manage the city’s population growth and to support a dynamic and innovative business climate.

Raleigh is one of the fastest growing areas in the country. It is also one of the anchors for North Carolina’s Research Triangle, which is widely known as a hub for entrepreneurship and innovation.

“It is a city that is really coming of age in the 21st century,” says Silver. “We are able to attract a number of businesses because we have three major universities North Carolina State, Duke University, and the University of North Carolina within close proximity. So we have become a brain magnet for young professionals and companies.”

Silver works to create a city where those students want to live after graduation, and over time the city has worked to become a more welcoming place for both residents and businesses. That work has paid off: Raleigh is frequently ranked at the top on “best places to live” lists for mid-sized cities. Silver attributes at least some of this to the planning department’s work building mixed-use development and walkable areas like downtown.

Mitch Silver, Chief Planning and Economic Development Officer, Raleigh, NC
Mitch Silver, Chief Planning and Economic Development Officer, Raleigh, NC

In 2009, Raleigh adopted its comprehensive plan, which Silver is quick to mention serves as a daily guide for his planning staff. Improving mobility within the city and throughout the region are key components of the plan.

Officials in Durham and Orange counties—the other jurisdictions that form the Research Triangle—have approved plans to construct a light rail throughout the region. Wake County commissioners are reluctant to support the plan, however. Despite the disagreement Silver stands firm that providing transportation options in the region is essential to enhancing Raleigh’s economic competitiveness.

“The city works collectively as a region. When you arrive at the airport, the sign doesn’t say ‘Welcome to Raleigh’; it says ‘Welcome to the Research Triangle’. We believe that, that is our brand and that is us,” he says.

The city is also creating strong partnerships between the universities, businesses and local government. In 2012, Raleigh hired an innovation and entrepreneurship manager to ensure start-up companies have the resources they need need to remain profitable and grow successfully within the city. Strategies like this and others that are intent on fostering a better relationship with the business community are why Raleigh saw over 19,000 new business filings in 2011.

Silver believes that if cities want to become economic drivers, they need to adapt and attract the talent they want. He offers that cities should “look at demographics and what Gen X and Y want. That means focusing on education, quality of life, transportation issues but that may also mean you have to be a city that has food trucks and parklets and all of the other things that attract and keep people in a city. Because many companies are looking for talent and don’t want to travel to recruit — but want it right there.”

Local Leaders Council