Economic developer describes Raleigh's appeal over other cities

ccampbell@newsobserver.comNovember 13, 2013 

— Raleigh competes for jobs with much larger cities such as Atlanta and Boston because of its young, college-educated workforce and amenities, the city’s economic development manager told a group of North Carolina mayors Wednesday.

The annual N.C. Metropolitan Mayors Coalition meeting gave Mayor Nancy McFarlane a chance to show off Raleigh’s success in luring tech and other companies. She led a panel discussion about where cities fit into the state’s economic growth.

Raleigh’s economic developer, James Sauls, explained how he sells the city to companies looking to relocate. His competition for new jobs often isn’t within the state, he said.

“We do not compete with Charlotte very often; we’re two different economies,” he said.

When companies name top contenders for a move or expansion, Sauls says six cities are typically on the list with Raleigh: Atlanta, New York, Austin, Texas; San Jose, Calif.; Boston and Washington.

Ipreo – a New York company that provides market intelligence and technology to investment banks – recently picked Raleigh over other cities to open its second-largest office. Executive Vice President O’Hara Macken told the mayors’ gathering that the high concentration of colleges in the Triangle was a big factor in the move. About 80 workers in its 140-employee Raleigh office are local hires, Macken said.

“We’ve been able to tap the universities and community colleges for staff,” he said. “Coming to downtown Raleigh was a natural fit for us because of the urban environment here.”

But one factor didn’t influence Ipreo’s move: the Triangle’s plans to eventually add light rail and other expanded transit options. Macken says his employees live all over the Triangle, and those who have experienced rush hour in the Northeast think driving to work here is easy.

“I think (transit) would have been more critical to us if we were going somewhere where there was traffic congestion,” he said, adding that his workers would still like a rail line to Chapel Hill, Durham and the airport.

Sauls said that in addition to higher education, he often touts the area’s amenities – parks, arts and restaurants – along with the low cost of living. And he noted that 71 percent of the population is age 46 or younger.

“If we can get talent to come here, then companies will follow,” he said.

Because of growing companies like Ipreo, the Triangle and Charlotte have largely made up their job losses from the recession, economist Mekael Teshome told the mayors. The picture is more mixed elsewhere in North Carolina, with only five of 14 metro areas back to pre-recession employment levels.

But successful cities in a changing economy, Teshome said, have several characteristics in common: well-developed infrastructure, a variety of industries and an educated workforce.

“The successful economies – those that have transitioned to the new reality – have high rates of educational attainment,” he said.

Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter

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