The establishment of North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park in 1959 was aimed at reversing the “brain drain” of graduates from the area’s top research universities seeking science and engineering jobs in the Northeast and elsewhere.
Beyond providing jobs for North Carolinians, the 1965 expansion of IBM into the Park set the stage for an influx of highly-trained workers attracted to the state’s moderate climate and inexpensive housing on large, green lots.
With the weather allowing near-year-round golfing, one will still hear the lifestyle descriptor, “Tees, trees, and PhDs.”
It’s no surprise now that the Park is now home to 170 companies that include Biogen Idec, Syngenta, United Therapeutics, Cisco, Bayer CropScience, Eisai, BASF, the U.S. EPA, NIH’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS; the only NIH institute/center outside of the DC metro area), and the original research institute that launched the park, RTI International. (Disclosure: I worked for RTI as a research pharmacologist from 2002 until 2008.)
The sprawl of housing developments across the three cities that comprise “the Triangle” – Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill – made RTP a work destination for nearly 40,000 people who would then spend most of their earnings near their homes. Why not? RTP is such a central location: 9 to 11 miles from downtown Durham, 12 to 14 miles from the center of Chapel Hill and the University of North Carolina, and 18 to 21 miles from the state capital of Raleigh. Plus, RTP’s early development plan never included housing or retail.
Over the last decade or so, the downtown areas of nearby Raleigh and Durham beganattracting young professionals back to the cities with redevelopment of old warehouses, mixed-use developments, and a revitalized arts, culture, and restaurant scene. A market began to emerge for more dense and convenient living that continues to expand. In December, the 23-story Skyhouse Raleigh apartment building broke ground downtown.