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Research and Information Drive Business Growth in the Research Triangle Region


Research Triangle Region, N.C. -- Bo Carson remembers all too well the day the massive RFP arrived on his desk requesting detailed information on every aspect of the Research Triangle Region's economy.

Carson and colleagues at the Research Triangle Regional Partnership (RTRP) swung into action, compiling data for an unknown, prospective company on everything from workforce and wage data to non-stop and frequent flight destinations served by Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) to the number and location of dim sum restaurants across the region.

That quick action paid off two years later when AW North Carolina Inc. opened its $100 million automatic transmission component manufacturing facility in Durham County, creating 350 high-paying jobs. Since then, AW North Carolina has spent more than $250 million in additional expansions and is currently adding 360 jobs to its 900-person operation.

Information is a key competitive asset, says Charles A. Hayes, president and CEO of RTRP, the public-private partnership that coordinates economic development for the Research Triangle Region of North Carolina. The 13-county region is home to The Research Triangle Park and the  north-central N.C. counties of Chatham, Durham, Franklin, Granville, Harnett, Johnston, Lee, Moore, Orange, Person, Vance, Wake and Warren.

Research and information services are a core component of our work to promote business growth and create jobs in communities across our region, Hayes says. With the help of our many partners across the region and state, we do information services extremely well.

Research services inform, promote business growth

RTRP receives about 60 such requests for information each year from companies seeking a place to locate or expand or from site selection consultants, real estate agents and other economic development partners who work on behalf of prospective companies.

The ability to gather and provide data quickly gives the region a competitive advantage over regions that can't.

Knowledge is power, says Carson, RTRP's vice president of information services, who has managed the region's research program since 1998. In economic development, information can mean the difference between attracting investment or not. In this region, knowledge and information help us market the region to growing companies as well as evaluate our results and identify promising opportunities in new, emerging industries.

On the recruiting side, RTRP leads a regional collaborative that gathers and provides information that targeted companies need to make location and expansion decisions. That includes every conceivable statistic companies may need to evaluate the region's assets for their particular industry, the quality and availability of the workforce, the relative cost and environment for doing business and the quality of life company executives and workers can expect. Companies ask for detailed population and demographic data, education and skill levels of workers, types and numbers of graduates coming out the universities and community colleges, wage and income data, housing data, tax rates and financial incentives offered by local and state governments and communities.

I've seen a dramatic shift in both the level of detail that companies are requesting and how quickly they need the information, Carson says. A decade ago, companies and consultants asked general questions about the workforce, population, where our airlines fly, ethnicity, numbers for our population and so on, and they gave us three or four weeks to compile it. Today, they want much greater detail and they want the information in three or four days, if you're lucky.

On the strategy front, RTRP compiles and analyzes data on companies, the marketplace and economic trends to evaluate the results of its marketing, to identify gaps in the clusters it seeks to expand, and to monitor conditions that affect the region's ability to promote business growth.

For instance, Carson is currently analyzing announcements of locations and expansions made by companies over the past two years to determine its success attracting business investment in 11 targeted clusters. Early results are positive. Of 138 announcements made by new and existing companies from January 2009-September 2010, 79 were made by cluster targets.

Cluster companies announced $3.5 billion in new capital projects to locate or expand in the region, creating 11,000 jobs, led by advanced medical care ($1.2 billion, 1,300 jobs) and biological agents and infectious disease ($1.0 billion, 495 jobs). Companies worked in clean/green technologies, a new cluster target, announced $399 million in new investment and 1,000 jobs. By contrast, companies outside the targeted clusters announced $287 million in new investment and 2,900 jobs.

This tells us we are on the right track with our mix of clusters and that we're having success creating the reputation and climate needed to attract them, Carson said.

Collaborative research effort leverages regional resources

RTRP's research program involves a broad network of partners who collaborate to provide information services to support business development. The network includes economic developers from the region's 13 counties, The Research Triangle Park, and N.C. Department of Commerce; business partners who market the region for investment, such as commercial real estate developers, site selection consultants and electric utilities; and those whose work affects the region's ability to compete, such as RDU and the region's research universities and community colleges.

Carson helps coordinate information gathered on the regional level with that compiled by the state. The result is a treasure trove of data and information easily accessible for developers and partners across the region.

Having a central source of information allows regional partners to quickly and nimbly compile and share data and information. It avoids duplication of services and effort. It also provides research capacity that counties and partner agencies do not have to provide on their own.

Having Bo and his research services means we don't have to hire a researcher for Franklin County, says Ronnie Goswick, director of the Franklin County Economic Development Commission and chair of RTRP's Economic Developers Advisory Committee. We can always count on Bo to provide all the information we need.

Among the 13 county economic development offices, only Wake maintains its own research staff, meaning RTRP's regional research program significantly extends the capacity and capabilities of its county partners. Even with a research staff, the regional service benefits Wake County Economic Development, says research manager Casey Cronce.

I know that between Bo and myself, we'll find an answer to almost any question we are asked in a timely manner, Cronce says. Being able to count on another organization to find the information with a dependable source is a great advantage to have.

That benefit extends deep and wide across Wake County to the many communities that Wake County Economic Development serves, says Ken Atkins, senior vice president and executive director.

Bo and RTRP add value to the relationships we have with our local municipal economic development partners, Atkins says. Often they look to our office to provide information on projects they are working on in their community and Bo helps us find those answers. On the flip side, we often pass on the requests from Bo about buildings and sites directly to our municipal partners, since they are the most familiar with their communities. Being included early on in the projects coming from the county and region helps build strong working relationships with our communities and gives them something to report back to their local boards and managers.

The Research Triangle Park gains significant value from the regional research program, says Anna Penner, RTP's director of business development.

The requests we receive always require various levels of regional data, Penner says. Given the time crunch associated with these submittals, RTRP's readiness and willingness to take on the regional sections of the request enable us to focus on park-specific requirements and submit a comprehensive document within the allotted timeframe. RTRP's research service also provides a constant pulse on regional economic development and the regional economy.

In addition, the research collaboration provides strong reinforcement of RTP's global brand, says RTP President and CEO Rick Weddle.

The Research Triangle Park and the broader Research Triangle Region are known for innovation through collaboration, Weddle says. By demonstrating that type of collaboration and institutional support from the very beginning, companies can envision their ability to achieve here and compete on a global scale.

All of the region's economic development partners benefit from the research collaboration, says RDU Marketing Director Teresa Damiano.

RTRP is the clearinghouse for research on all things related to the health and growth of the business economy in our region, Damiano says. It is the first and usually only source we need to access. Prior to the RTRP, we had to work with individual communities, the state, Census Bureau information and several other economic databases and attempt to synthesize all of that information to get what we needed to market the region to air carriers. Without the RTRP's research capabilities, we would be in a very difficult position to deliver information to our prospective clients quickly.

Contact RTRP Information Services

The Research Triangle Regional Partnership leads economic development for the Research Triangle Region of North Carolina (www.researchtriangle.org) and the region's strategic economic development plan, called The Shape of Things to Come. RTRP's research services are designed to promote business growth and support strategic marketing.

For more information on RTRP's research and information services, contact Bo Carson, vice president of information services, at (919) 840-7372 ext. 11 or bcarson@researchtriangle.org.