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Like many areas of expertise at the School, UNC DFI started in 2011 because local governments asked for specialized assistance and the School was responsive. Attracting private investment into severely distressed areas—small towns, rural areas, or downtowns where most of the structures are vacant, underutilized, or blighted—is a challenge faced by communities across North Carolina. Many DFI projects are in economically distressed communities that have struggled to attract private investment. Local governments lack the in-house expertise to evaluate proposed projects, and DFI is a trusted and cost-effective option. DFI is a great example of the University helping communities across North Carolina realize their economic development potential.
Since its inception, DFI has applied its development finance expertise to make sophisticated tools, such as tax credit financing, mezzanine loans, and program-related equity investments, more accessible in distressed areas. DFI acts as a trusted partner working on behalf of local governments for development projects of any size or scope. DFI begins its work by assessing community needs and assets and then stays with the local government until the project attracts the necessary private capital—and longer if needed.
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DFI is a program of the School of Government that provides specialized finance and development expertise to local governments in connection with the educational and public service mission of the School. DFI shares the same mission as the School, which is to provide North Carolina’s local and state government officials with nonpartisan legal, public administration, management, and financial expertise. DFI also shares the School’s values, which is to be nonpartisan, policy-neutral, and responsive. For more, visit

DFI is led by Tyler Mulligan, professor of public law and government, since 2017. Additional oversight is provided by Tom Thornburg, senior associate dean and professor of public law and government. DFI and its staff are subject to the School of Government’s policies and procedures, which are subject to the policies and procedures of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

DFI staff teach local government practitioners through the School of Government’s continuing education programs as well as graduate students from several degree-granting programs at UNC-Chapel Hill.

In Tyler Mulligan’s course on community revitalization, graduate students analyze local development projects for communities at no charge, simultaneously educating the next generation of local government development officials and putting energetic learners to work on projects in underserved areas.

Additionally, DFI recruits graduate fellows from a variety of programs. These fellows are able to perform high-level analysis and contribute to high-level strategic thinking about DFI’s projects. The fellows also mentor students. Graduating fellows make for highly qualified DFI real estate development analysts and project managers, and, at times, project workflows seamlessly when a student graduates and joins the DFI team in a permanent role.

DFI’s employees are state employees, and they are salaried like all other state employees. The DFI Graduate Fellows program employs several graduate students from institutions across the Triangle every year for in-depth project work as well.