Monday, April 11, 2016

The Triangle

In 1959, Research Triangle Park opened in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill region of North Carolina. Preceding the presence of this park, North Carolina's economy was sluggish at best, characterized by low-wage jobs in furniture and textile manufacturing along with an inability to retain talent produced by area universities.  In an absolutely visionary move, governmental entities worked with three key universities to create an environment enticing to private sector research companies.  These companies which would be lured to the region could then feed off the intellectual assets produced by higher education, creating a model for what would eventually become a knowledge-based economy.  The result today is one of America's fastest growing metropolitan areas.  As an example, the population of the city of Raleigh has increased from 65,679 in 1950 to 439,896 in 2014.

Despite this Hollywood ending, Research Triangle Park was not always guaranteed to succeed.  Early obstacles included:

  1. A less than stellar perception of the Southeast, which at the time was known much more for segregation and conservatism than education and innovation, and
  2. Five years of slow growth which seemed to diminish the credibility of the park.
How is any of this relevant to Rochester? As of 2015, Rochester is home to a nationwide consortium focused on integrated photonics, i.e. the marriage of light and computer chips for applications in telecommunications, health care, etc.  At the current time, attempting to ascertain exactly how this consortium might work is an impossible task.  A reasonable portion of local media coverage has actually focused on childlike bickering over which empty buildings to use.  However, despite the unknowns, there are already a few key points that Rochester can learn from Research Triangle Park:
  • Contrary to the beliefs of some grumpy Rochesterians, government, universities, and the private sector can work together to boost a regional economy.
  • Rochester's reputational shortcomings can and should be overcome.
  • The University of Rochester and the Rochester Institute of Technology are world-class universities that can easily produce the knowledge and expertise necessary for the future of this venture.
  • Expecting tangible results in six months, one year, or even three years is ludicrous.
  • If the photonics initiative has even a tiny fragment of the success of Research Triangle Park, that might be enough to fully rejuvenate Rochester.
  • Since the project includes two key local universities (as opposed to three), the word triangle cannot be used.  That said, I think we can all be happy with a line.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting post! It's enlightening to have this perspective and it definitely offers a lot of hope for a somewhat similar endeavor in our region.