Staying ahead of the curve

Mar. 14, 2014 @ 05:54 PM

In October 2012, the New Republic published an article titled “Dinosaur Makeover: Can Research Triangle Park Pull Itself Out of the 1950s?”

A month later, RTP unveiled a new master plan that aimed to do just that. Part of that plan led the Research Triangle Foundation to an $18 million purchase, its largest land investment since the initial property for the park was purchased more than 50 years ago.
The new site will include 3 million square feet of residential, retail, hotels and spaces where entrepreneurs and executives can meet. The foundation wants to create the amenities that officials say high-tech employees have come to expect elsewhere.
The revised master plan is an implicit acknowledgement that the park needs to change or it will become a relic. As illustrated when Underwoods were replaced with IBMs, technology continues to evolve and businesses need to remain out in front of the curve or become obsolete.
A well-known economist earlier this week delivered the cautionary note that RTP is no longer out front on new technology.
Wells Fargo managing director and senior economist Mark Vitner said Thursday that the Research Triangle Park area is missing out on the “unparalleled” technology sector boom that is taking place.
Vitner, speaking at the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce’s 2014 Economic Outlook Briefing, noted that RTP is driven by the old technology sector – personal computers, main frames and other equipment. What’s driving the new boom is in what he termed the “new technology” sector, which includes cloud computing, payment processing, cybersecurity and social media, among others.
It’s a somewhat ominous take on what the future holds for RTP, but underscores the wisdom of crafting the master plan in 2012 to reinvent the park. The rise of hot new high-tech Meccas like Austin, Texas, presents challenges for RTP. And the Research Triangle has long emulated Silicon Valley, which still maintains dominance in the field.
The foundation has created a blueprint for how to move forward to again become an area that is out front on technology, and a destination point that can lure the minds and companies that will drive the Triangle back into that position.
We should point out that the news isn’t all bad. Vitner acknowledge we are doing well here, we’re just not one of the leaders of the pack at the moment. Clearly local leaders should and do have their eyes on retaking that position as we move forward.