State of Research Triangle Region Event Highlights Regional Economic Growth

Colleges and universities at the heart of region’s job creation, business recruitment success

Research Triangle Region, N.C. (May 22, 2014) – Whether facilitating world-leading talent or drawing billions of dollars in research funding, higher education institutions have been at the heart of the Research Triangle Region’s economic success, business leaders told a gathering of over 900 at today’s State of the Research Triangle Region breakfast in Durham. The annual event highlighted accomplishments for the region during the past 12 months, including corporate relocations and expansions, the addition of new hard assets and progress made toward the region’s five-year strategic plan.

“Talent is our competitive advantage,” said Charles Hayes, president and CEO of the Research Triangle Regional Partnership (RTRP), which organizes the annual event. “That’s what our institutions of higher education bring to the table.”

Talent refers to the industry-specific skills and aptitudes today’s companies seek in order to be globally competitive. The 21 colleges and universities across the region produce reliable streams of work-ready graduates. More than 32,000 students graduate from these institutions each year, with degrees ranging from the Associates to the doctoral levels. “One of the companies that set up shop here [recently] said of the top five factors they consider when siting a facility, the first three are talent, talent and talent,” Hayes told the audience.

Institutions such as Duke University, which is in the process of opening a new campus near Shanghai, and UNC Chapel Hill, which maintains a joint bachelor’s degree with the National University of Singapore, extend the Triangle’s regional brand around the world. So too do programs such as REACH NC, a web-based inventory of academic research expertise at the region’s public and private universities. “Such ready connections to campus mindpower from anywhere in the world is an open door for foreign direct investment and trade relationships in our region,” Hayes said.

Triangle Region Universities’ Research Impact

Academic research is a key economic engine for the region’s “Knowledge Economy.” Spending on research programs at five of the region’s universities -- Duke University, North Carolina Central University, North Carolina State University, RTI International (a university in all but name), and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – totaled $3.25 billion in the 2012-13 fiscal year. Fully 75 percent of the $2.8 billion in research dollars arriving in the region that year originated from outside North Carolina. The salaries of some 55,000 workers in the region are linked completely or in part to university research. More than 5,500 businesses here support the region’s academic research economy through vendor relationships with universities.

“University-based research is big business in the Research Triangle Region and accounts for more than $3.25 billion in annual spending in the region,” said Hayes. Large employers, as well as smaller ones with high growth potential, emerged from campus laboratories and research projects, names like CREE, Advanced Liquid Logic and Liquidia Technologies. “Apart from supporting high-value salaries today, the by-product of the work being done is laying the foundation for a new generation of valuable companies capable of generating significant wealth for the region for decades.”

College and university outreach and engagement efforts also add measurable value to the region’s economy. Programs such as the Cooperative Extension Service, Industrial Extension Service, Small Business and Technology Development Center and Area Health Education Centers (AHECs) have long moved new techniques and technologies from campuses into companies and communities. Small Business Centers at the region’s community colleges also play a key role in supporting the start-up and success of entrepreneurs.

Other speakers shared perspectives on the prominence of universities and colleges in the region’s economic landscape. Bob Geolas, president and CEO of the Research Triangle Foundation of North Carolina, which manages Research Triangle Park (RTP), reiterated the important link between higher education and economic competitiveness in the 21st century. “New idea generation from a well-trained workforce is of paramount importance in the modern information-driven global economy,” said Geolas, whose organization was one of the event’s two presenting sponsors. “RTP’s success over the last 50 years is a shining example of the role strong universities play in creating economic wealth across industries.”  

Paula Fryland, regional president for PNC, also a co-presenting sponsor of the State of the Region, echoed the importance of education on sustaining the talent development and economic growth that companies like hers depend on. “A strong higher education network, coupled with the business collaboration to support it, is critical for growing companies that depend on access to diverse talent to choose the Research Triangle Region as their home.”

Growth Among Target Clusters

The event also featured metrics on the Research Triangle Region’s current strategic plan. Since the mid-2009 launch of “The Shape of Things to Come” strategy, Advanced Medical Care has led all target industry clusters in new investment – accounting for $1.6 billion in announced wealth. Nearly every county in the region has seen activity from the cluster’s 299 expansion and relocation announcements. Operations related to Biological Agents and Infectious Diseases have drawn $1.14 billion in capital investment since mid-2009. Finally, Pervasive Computer – those companies weaving information technologies into nearly every aspect of life and work – accounted for the region’s most job-intensive target cluster since mid-2009, creating employment for 6,310 workers in the Research Triangle Region.

Other highlights from the past year included:

  • an expansion by Spuntech, an Israeli manufacturer of non-woven textiles, in Roxboro valued at $40 million;
  • an announcement by Denmark’s Novozymes that it will build a $36 million R&D center in Wake County while also undertaking a $31 million expansion at its longtime North American headquarters in Franklin County;
  • a $102 million expansion in Johnston County by Novo Nordisk, the world’s largest insulin producer;
  • the selection of Harnett County by furniture retailer Rooms-to-Go for a $40 million showroom and distribution center;
  • plans by automotive transmission manufacturer AW North Carolina, a unit of Japan’s AISIN AW CO., LTD., to invest $135 million at plants in Durham and Granville counties;
  • a $12 million expansion at auto components maker Keihin Carolina System Technology, a unit of Japan’s Keihin Group, in Edgecombe County;
  • a $48 million investment by Japan-based Morinaga America Foods at a new 90-employee facility in Mebane;
  • plans by Italy’s Nutkao, a maker of nut butters, to build a $17 production facility in Nash County, the company’s first-ever U.S. location;
  • a commitment by the U.S. Government, announced in a January visit to the region by President Obama, that N.C. State University would lead a $146 million university consortium aimed at commercializing wide bandgap technologies; and
  • the re-opening of the remodeled Terminal One at RDU International Airport.

Joining PNC and the Research Triangle Foundation of North Carolina as sponsors for the 2014 State of the Research Triangle Region are Wells Fargo, Duke Energy, the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce’s EDGE 4 program, The Hamner Institutes for Health Sciences, Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Biogen Idec, ElectriCities of North Carolina, GlaxoSmithKline, NAI Carolantic Realty and Siemens, among many others.

Download detailed information from the event at:

About The Research Triangle Regional Partnership

The Research Triangle Regional Partnership leads economic development for the Research Triangle Region of North Carolina, comprised of Chatham, Durham, Edgecombe, Franklin, Granville, Harnett, Johnston, Lee, Moore, Nash, Orange, Person, Vance, Wake, and Warren counties. RTRP comprises economic development agencies who work with the N.C. Department of Commerce and a wide range of partners to ensure the region remains economically competitive. For more information, visit

For information on the State of the Region event, go to

Charles Hayes, President and CEO
Research Triangle Regional Partnership (RTRP)