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S ome evenings, when pandemic cabin fever reaches critical levels, I relieve my claustrophobia by escaping into the dreamworld of Zillow, the real-estate website. From the familiar confines of my Washington, D. Apparently, many of you are doing the same thing. Higher search volumes on Zillow have coincided with a booming housing market in the South and the West, as rents fall in expensive coastal cities. Derek Thompson: A lot of Americans are about to lose their homes.

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A few decades ago these massive buildings were owned by tobacco companies and bustling with blue-collar workers. Now, the city is in the midst of an ongoing, carefully orchestrated plan to boost the economy.

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These vast spaces are once again teeming with with jobs and workers, but of a completely different variety: white-collar entrepreneurs hoping to make Durham a major destination for start-up ventures. This did not happen by chance.

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Luckily, it had the tools to build one: massive amounts of open, unused office space thanks to the abandoned tobacco manufacturing plants, low at the time property prices, and proximity to illustrious academic institutions. So the local government started courting start-ups. That same year the governor of North Carolina implemented a tax credit for developing businesses in the city, geared toward interactive digital media.

The Chamber of Commerce has also offered monetary compensation for opening up businesses in the downtown district, and for creating jobs. American Underground AUone of the larger start-up incubators in the city and one of nine Google Tech Hubs throughout North America, has seen ificant growth.

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The organization started by hosting 25 startups inand now has 10 times that on its current roster. The program has taken up residence in one of those old tobacco facilities downtown, creating the Durham Bullpen, a space for entrepreneurs to collaborate that also includes classrooms for Duke students, whose main campus is about two miles away.

Because Durham is a new entrant, part of a second wave of the start-up boom, some say that the city has both advantages and additional responsibilities when it comes to molding the local economy. They have focused on bringing in successful entrepreneurs of different races and genders to advise and encourage startups.

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Already, Klein says, it seems like these efforts are helping to draw in entrepreneurs who are excited about the idea of ing a start-up community that is being strategically built to be more inclusive, rather trying to break into one that is struggling to diversify a near-uniform workforce. Of the companies to come out of American Underground infor instance, about 30 percent are led by women and 22 percent are led by minorities.

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He also wants to dispel students of the notion that entrepreneurship is only for those who are interested in a tech-based solution. The revitalization that has swept across downtown, bringing jobs, new buildings, bars, and coffee shops, also means that prices are going up. And the start-up-friendly rents that allowed burgeoning businesses to expand easily are quickly disappearing. And while convincing new companies to settle in the South has been successful in many regards, drawing similar interest from investors can still take some work.

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The heavy hitters of start-up funding have traditionally been located in places that have a proven track record of returns and success—the places that Durham is intent on not patterning itself after. Popular Latest.

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