Impact of universities on regional economy lauded

May. 22, 2014 @ 05:56 PM

Without the Research Triangle region’s well-funded and well-supported universities, Bob Geolas said the Research Triangle Park would just be land.
Geolas is the president and CEO of the Research Triangle Foundation of North Carolina, the group that manages the business park. He was a speaker Thursday at the annual meeting of the Research Triangle Regional Partnership, an economic development group for 15 counties in the region including Chatham, Durham, Orange and Wake.
Thursday’s annual meeting focused on the impact that the area’s universities have on the region’s economy. In its beginnings, Geolas said, the “big idea” for Research Triangle Park involved investing in and tapping “North Carolina’s greatest resource.”
“We’re not a state blessed with oil or (large) amounts of timber, but we have incredible people,” Geolas said. “That’s our greatest resource. We knew 50 years ago that if we could tap into that, invest in that, we could build a future for ourselves.”
Geolas said the commitment to funding and supporting the higher-education institutions has been “what has, more than anything” lifted the region and state.
According to information from the economic development group, research program spending at Duke University, N.C. Central University, N.C. State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the contract research nonprofit RTI International totaled $3.25 billion in fiscal year 2012-13.
The report also said that the salaries of about 55,000 workers in the region are linked completely or in part to university research.
Charles Hayes, president and CEO of the Research Triangle Regional Partnership, cited examples of companies that have spun out of the area’s universities, including the Durham-based Cree Inc. and Quintiles.
Also at the meeting, the group announced results of an economic strategy that it launched in July 2009. The group had a goal of creating 100,000 net new jobs by 2014. Hayes said at the meeting that in the first six months of the plan, the region lost jobs. As of March, the region has gained 83,338 net new jobs, he said, and added that he expects the region will likely meet the goal by June 30.