Triangle Chatter

Successful Economic Development Balances Today’s Needs With Those of Tomorrow

Charles HayesEconomic development has traditionally focused on job creation, wealth attraction and business formation that address the wants and needs of today’s businesses and communities. But more and more, practitioners of our field are tuning into the challenges associated with maximizing present-day opportunities while also preserving prosperity and livability for future generations.

Economic developers were among the 500 participants who gathered in February for the second annual North Carolina Clean Tech Summit in Chapel Hill. The two-day meeting, which drew officials from education, industry and public policy, included considerable discussion on how to create sustainable communities – cities, towns, neighborhoods and regions that are smart, secure and strong.

UNC’s Institute for the Environment and the Kenan-Flagler Center for Sustainable Enterprise organized the summit. Among those attending were CEOs from Duke Energy, Southern Companies and the Tennessee Valley Authority, three of the nation’s largest utilities.

Sustainability presents an exciting economic development opportunity the Research Triangle Region. The success of the Clean Tech Summit, which drew entrepreneurs and business leaders from as far away as California, is evidence of our leadership on this increasingly crucial topic. So too has been the success of the Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster (RTCC). RTCC, a program of our organization, was among the Summit’s top-level sponsors, and two of our staffers – Lee Anne Nance and Emmit Owens – were among the Summit’s panel moderators.

RTCC has harnessed leadership, expertise and financial support from businesses, individuals and public sector organizations in an effort to forge collaborative ties, showcase innovation and gather global attention. In the wake of that will come new jobs, companies and investment dollars. Our region’s commitment to sustainability is also visible in the work of Triangle Air Awareness, a partnership between our organization and the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources that provides environmental education and information to schools and businesses.

Sound sustainability planning already manifests itself in real ways. Most foundations now routinely require sustainability or “readiness” plans from organizations and agencies seeking grant funding. Tracy King Sharp, chief operating officer of Boyette Strategic Advisors in Atlanta, says sustainability planning has been added to the checklist of readiness factors for competing communities. A recent survey by the real estate organization CoreNet Global revealed that sustainability was a top consideration in corporate location choices 90 percent of the time. In response, communities are highlighting sustainability through LEED-certified office buildings, schools, hospitals and retail centers. Some are even developing LEED-certified spec buildings, Sharp says.

In the Research Triangle Region, future-friendly communities, companies, organizations and universities have built global credibility on the issue of sustainability – giving our region a competitive advantage as we strive to create prosperity and livability that can be enjoyed by the generations yet to come.

 Author: Charles A. Hayes, CEcD, President & CEO, Research Triangle Regional Partnership

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