Research Triangle Park's top pitchman is going to Disney World.
In an unexpected defection, Rick Weddle, who has run the Research Triangle Foundation since 2004, has quit to become CEO of the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission. The nonprofit recruits new businesses and expansions to the Orlando, Fla., region.
Liz Rooks, the RTP foundation's executive vice president, will take over as interim CEO and oversee a long-anticipated update to the park's master plan.
During his tenure at RTP, Weddle became one of this region's most visible and vocal economic-development cheerleaders. He appeared on CNBC and in other media to tout this region's successes and RTP's role as an economic engine.
He helped lure new tenants to RTP, including Fidelity, Credit Suisse and IEM. But he has also seen several depart, including Nortel Networks and Sony Ericsson. The 7,000-acre park is home to more than 170 companies, government agencies and other tenants that employ 52,000 people.
In 2009, Weddle oversaw the International Association of Science Parks' annual conference at the Raleigh Convention Center. It was the group's first meeting in the United States and helped reinforce RTP's global reputation.
"Everyone in the world is trying to figure out how to be what we are, while we're figuring out what to be next," Weddle said in an interview that summer. He didn't return calls seeking comment Tuesday.
Rooks doesn't expect to become the foundation's permanent CEO but said it's too soon to discuss the timing for the board to choose a new top executive.
"I'm a planner by background," said Rooks, who has been with the foundation since 1989. "Being president of the Research Triangle Foundation is big shoes for anyone to fill. I have great confidence our board will find someone to lead this organization."
David Ward, a New Bern lawyer who is chairman of the foundation's board, said he was surprised when Weddle informed the board late last week that he was leaving.
There are no immediate plans to conduct a search for Weddle's replacement, Ward said. "We've got a lot on our plates and when we feel the need to get another person in there, we'll go about a search."
Orchestrating a new master plan, which is being developed by New York design firm Cooper, Robertson & Partners, will require the politically tricky task of winning approval among tenants such as IBM, Cisco Systems and GlaxoSmithKline, as well as state lawmakers and elected officials in Durham and Wake counties.
The plan will likely include a roadmap for development in RTP, including possible retail and residential components. The plan is expected to be ready this summer, but many of theideas have been discussed for several years.
It will be the first update since RTP opened in 1959. The goal is to reinvent the park for the next 50 years, and make it a more attractive place to work and visit, Weddle said last fall.
The foundation is known for its deliberate pace when considering changes. RTP got new signs last year, but only after several years of discussion.
Moving to Florida
Weddle is scheduled to start in Orlando on March 14. He and his wife, Ginger, will relocate to central Florida from Cary, the Metro Orlando EDC wrote in a statement.
The group recruited Weddle relying on his record at RTP and at his previous job in Phoenix, chairman David Pace said.
"We really admire what you guys have up there, and we think we deserve the best economic development recruiter we could find," he added. "We want to win more than we lose in terms of economic opportunities."
Orlando and the rest of Florida were hit hard by the recession. The region wants to build on its foundation of tourism and theme parks, and expand other industry clusters such as aerospace, biotechnology and high-tech, Pace said.
Staff writer David Bracken contributed to this report.
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