Leaders and stakeholders in North Carolina’s Research Triangle have a pretty simple goal in mind when it comes to growing that region — making sure the more than 100,000 college students in the area have a reason to stick around when they graduate.
Talent both drives entrepreneurship and attracts bigger companies to the Triangle, and a win for a city is a win for the entire region, the leaders said.
“We are not going to bid against each other,” said Adrienne Cole, president of the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce. “We have to live to fight another day, too.”
A Hampton Roads Chamber delegation visited Sept. 23-25 to learn how cities like Raleigh and Durham have created a booming economy with billions in new development.
During the past 10 years, wages and salaries in the Raleigh-Durham metro area have grown almost 30%, and employment during the same time has jumped up about 28%, according to data provided to delegates by the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission.
Raleigh Mayor Pro Temp Corey Branch told about 80 Hampton Roads visitors that more than $3 billion in new development has been completed or is in progress since 2005.
Development officials spoke at the large, state-of-the-art Hunt Library at North Carolina State University’s Centennial Campus as construction workers outside worked on the $150 million Fitts-Woolard Hall, which will house several university engineering departments.
The campus encapsulates the spirit of collaboration with private companies. National businesses like IBM, Hanes and Merck have research departments on the 1,105-acre campus.
Fitts-Woolard Hall is itself a product of a public-private partnership. Half its funding came from public money with the remainder coming from private philanthropy.
“We have been making strides over the last decade or so to make ourselves more attractive to industry partners, and to do research that is impactful all the way through to commercialization,” said Leah Burton, director of the campus’s partnership office.
The visitors heard from regional experts in transportation, sports marketing and workforce development, plus visited NC State, PNC Arena and a Raleigh food hall restaurant concept.
Somewhere through the decades of planning and discussions, Durham Chamber of Commerce President Geoff Durham said, city leaders figured out they could more effectively leverage their region’s assets if they worked together.
Durham by itself has a population of a little over 274,000 and often competes for projects with places the size of Chattanooga, Tennessee.
However, when you add in Raleigh and Chapel Hill, the metro area of around 2.1 million people is able to compete with cities like San Francisco and Washington, D.C., Durham said.
“All of a sudden, we’re punching way above our weight,” he said.
In Raleigh’s downtown, evidence of this success is visible all over the place. While bluegrass players from around the world prepared to meet at the Raleigh Convention Center Sept. 21, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg spoke a few blocks away at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts. Overhead, the crimson roof of the 19-story Red Hat Tower defines part of the town’s skyline.
The building’s namesake is a hometown success story — Red Hat has gone from its founding by one person in 1994 to having more than 2,000 local employees and 13,400 worldwide in 2019. The open-source software company was sold to IBM for $34 billion in October 2018.