“The State of the Research Triangle Region adds value as a showcase for regional innovation. It also fosters cohesion and collaboration among Triangle leaders, which is perhaps the single asset that puts the Research Triangle Region on the short list of global business destinations.”
-- John Geib, Duke Energy’s director of economic development for North Carolina
Duke Energy — A Business Legend Whose Value is Always Visible
Duke Energy supplies and delivers energy to approximately 7.3 million U.S. customers. It has approximately 57,500 megawatts of electric generating capacity in the Carolinas, the Midwest and Florida – and natural gas distribution services in Ohio and Kentucky. Its 2012 merger with Progress Energy made the Charlotte-based company the nation’s largest electric power holding company. And Duke Energy’s reach is global: it owns and operates diverse power generation assets in North America and Latin America, including a portfolio of renewable energy assets.
Few states have enjoyed economic development leadership from a utility more than North Carolina has from Duke Energy. With roots in the state dating back to 1904, the company provides strategic, tactical and technical support to statewide, regional and local economic development programs and organizations.
Duke’s leadership in North Carolina’s business community during key moments has propelled economic development efforts in a winning direction. In the mid 1990s, its storied CEO William States Lee visibly advocated for legislation enabling the state to offer financial incentives in the recruitment of new industry. Lee died suddenly just as the legislation headed toward passage, but the result was a set of tax credits that would bear his name. “It was a landmark move for North Carolina, which prior to that time had no statutory program to compete with incentives being offered by rival southern states,” says John Geib, Duke Energy’s director of economic development for North Carolina. “Bill Lee Act” credits helped propel the arrival of numerous manufacturers during the following 12 years.
Duke Energy’s leadership was both pivotal and prescient a decade later as much of North Carolina struggled with the consequences of shuttered furniture manufacturing mills. The company’s economic development team identified an emerging industry that could fill the void and embarked on a strategy to recruit its top names. The effort transformed a large swath of the western Piedmont into a mecca for economically potent data centers. “We were the first utility to actively, aggressively pursue these guys,” Geib says.
Through targeted outreach to the site-selection consulting community, Duke connected with rapidly growing names in digital media, social networking and e-commerce. The company worked with local, regional and state economic development partners in luring the likes of Apple, Google and Facebook to North Carolina. “We got in the game early,” says Geib of Duke’s interest in data centers.
Closer to home, Duke Energy’s economic development team supported the arrival of advanced manufacturers in the automotive components, building products, consumer foods and other job-rich clusters. In 2013, when MetLife considered Cary for its 1,300-worker global technology center, Duke provided technical as well as financial assistance that helped seal the deal. “The addition of a marquee corporate name like MetLife says all the right things about North Carolina’s brand,” Geib says, “and that makes it a win-win for everyone.”
Rural communities have benefitted measurably from Duke’s Site Readiness program. The company launched the program in 2004 to enhance the quality of industrial sites in its service area. Communities accepted into the program tap the technical expertise of McCallum Sweeney Consulting, a highly regarded location advisor. “Consultants go in and view a site through the client’s eyes,” explains Geib. The process takes about six months to complete and strives to meet two objectives. “First, it sharpens the understanding local leaders have regarding the factors businesses consider when evaluating potential locations,” Geib says. “Secondly, it spots any barriers that might limit or even prevent development.”
Aside from hard assets, Duke Energy also invests vigorously in the social and cultural appeal of North Carolina, as well as it’s the other states it serves. In 2013, the Duke Energy Foundation awarded $25.6 million to colleges and schools, charities, arts organizations and other non-profits across its service area. The figure includes a $6.7 million investment the company is making in the North Carolina Community College System for technical education and workforce development in support of business and industry.
The Research Triangle Region owes much for the downtown renaissance in Durham and Raleigh to the leadership or Duke Energy (and Progress Energy, in the latter case). The companies led the way in supporting revitalization plans for the Triangle’s two urban centers.
In the last 15 years, as the State of the Research Triangle Region Breakfast emerged as a key gathering of the region’s business and community officials, Duke Energy lent its name and financial support to the annual event. “The State of the Region meeting adds value as a showcase for regional innovation,” Geib says. “It also fosters cohesion and collaboration among Triangle leaders, which is perhaps the single asset that puts the Research Triangle Region on the short list of global business destinations.”