A handful of university and business leaders came up with the grand vision for a research park more than 50 years ago, a place that would draw companies that would invent, innovate and bring high-tech partners to an area with multiple universities, including the research institutions in Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill.
The park was, as all now know, a wildly successful vision indeed. Companies, from pharmaceutical giants (GlaxoSmithKline) to established large firms such as IBM, flourished, and universities have had a role in park research. But now, the next generation of university and business leaders are adjusting that vision as a nearsighted person might seek to update a pair of glasses. Its time, and the specific plans as announced in recent days are promising.
Bob Geolas, a Raleigh fellow who formerly led Clemson Universitys automotive research campus and prior to that worked as a leader of N.C. State Universitys Centennial Campus, is the new CEO of the Research Triangle Foundation, which oversees the park. He is well-grounded to carry out new plans, which he also has had a role in shaping.
This week, Geolas led civic leaders and board members on a bus tour of North Carolina. Everyone would like to be associated with the park, he said. Were talking to people all over the state. Vision expanded.
To be sure, Research Triangle Park is a wonder. But instead of self-contained, individual campuses, Geolas and RTP board members recognize that entrepreneurs of the type wholl be drawn to the park in the future will want a more urbanized scene with amenities: shops, dining places, even residential development, dense but creative. Vision enhanced.
Theyll also want mass transit, which is taking shape with approval by Orange and Durham County residents of a transit tax to help fund rail connections and expanded bus service throughout the region. The third partner, Wake County, has yet to put the tax before voters. RTPs new plans should help to push that idea along so that regional transportation could take a major step.
While the new master plan can move ahead absent approval of funding for a mass transit system, Geolas says, things would move more quickly and efficiently with such a system.
And without more transportation options, traffic to and from the park will intensify.
RTP was a cutting-edge idea when that long-ago vision was realized. Now, it faces competition from New York to California competition that came about, at least in some cases, because of the parks success.
The business leaders who lead the board are due credit for recognizing that it was time to redesign the blueprints. After all, the park could have continued to rest on its laurels for some time to come. But eventually, ground would have been lost to other ambitious projects elsewhere in the United States. Instead, there is a good chance the next 50 years can be as exciting as the last 50 keeping the park in its role as a prime generator of jobs both for the region and the state.