2008: Research Triangle in NC
Imagine Georgia’s Innovation Crescent stretching from Atlanta to Athens (with Gwinnett at its heart) being mentioned in the same breath as the renowned Research Triangle among global site consultants.
Imagine a regional Outer Loop that would cut commute times in half and dramatically reduce clogged traffic on I-285.
Imagine once blighted or abandoned neighborhoods in southern Gwinnett becoming some of the Atlanta region’s hottest new live, work, play communities that become the hub for our region’s “creative class” and where the tax base in those areas quadruple over time.
Imagine a nonprofit arts and culture industry in Gwinnett that annually generates more than $105 million in local economic activity.
Imagine Georgia Gwinnett College as one of the state’s most prominent institutions of higher learning, being heralded as a national model bringing teaching and outreach together in public/private partnerships to stimulate economic development.
Imagination sparks ideas and vision. Vision leads to plans and implementation. Plans turn dreams into realities.
That was the purpose of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce’s Strategic Leadership Visit to the Research Triangle Region of North Carolina, where nearly 60 of Gwinnett’s community and business leaders met with their peers to learn best practices in the areas of arts and tourism, education, economic development, transportation, and redevelopment.
The Chamber selected the Research Triangle for its many similarities to Gwinnett County, based on research from the community’s Partnership Gwinnett strategy. Here’s a brief summary of some of the lessons learned.
ARTS: Since 1990, The United Arts Council of Raleigh & Wake County has served as the umbrella fundraising organization for the arts in Wake County. Funds are distributed back to the community through grants to hundreds of artists and arts organizations. The result has been a burgeoning arts and culture industry that generates $105.76 million in local economic activity and 2.57 million in total attendance at arts and cultural events annually. Lesson: Following a similar model, Gwinnett’s new Strength In Arts initiative will have the same impact. The arts will also play a more prominent role in attracting future corporate relocations.
TOURISM & BALLPARKS: Thanks to many great public-private investments in sports and entertainment venues, the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau has become a major player at attracting major amateur and collegiate tournaments and events. Their efforts have resulted in a number of major ACC and NCAA tournaments. Lesson: With our world-class arena and new Gwinnett Braves Stadium, Gwinnett is fast becoming Atlanta’s hub for family-friendly sports entertainment, like the Triangle. We will capitalize on these assets.
K-12 EDUCATION: Like Gwinnett, the Wake County Public School System has received numerous national accolades. Through strong business-education partnerships, innovative business practices and procedures were employed by the system and test scores went up, teacher satisfaction and retention improved and community support for the schools reached new levels of satisfaction and pride. New “Early Colleges” and “Career Academies” were created as innovative approaches to maximize student success. Lesson: Gwinnett has excellent public school systems with very qualified teachers, principals, and board members. Therefore, continued business support for our public schools will result in higher test scores and graduation rates, improving our workforce.
REGIONAL ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: At the heart of their region’s economic development success is the Research Triangle Regional Partnership (RTRP), a business-driven, public-private partnership dedicated to keeping the 13-county Research Triangle region economically competitive through business, government and educational collaboration. The economic development decision makers from each county meet on a monthly basis to discuss and set the region’s marketing strategies. By pooling their resources, they are able to stretch their marketing and PR dollars much further than any community could have done individually. Lesson: Presently, with no autonomous regional economic development group promoting the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport to Athens region, the Innovation Crescent Regional Partnership will be the leadership organization to fill that void.
TRANSPORTATION: The Regional Transportation Alliance (RTA) was formed in 2001 to lobby for critically needed transportation improvements to the entire region. Today, commute times have been cut in half since the creation of Raleigh’s Outer Loop, Interstate 540, a 31-mile northern arc that spreads across North Raleigh from Research Triangle Park in the west to Knightdale in the east. They also have a long-term spending plan included in the new state budget that will give the N.C. Turnpike Authority $25 million that will help clear the way for construction to start in December on the 18-mile Triangle Expressway. Traffic could start moving on parts of the TriEx by the end of 2010. Lesson: A business voice on transportation issues is critical. The Gwinnett Chamber’s enhanced lobbying efforts for new transportation funding in partnership with the Get Georgia Moving Coalition will produce positive transportation results in the near future.
BUSINESS – UNIVERSITY PARTNERSHIPS: Wake County has successfully exploited its reputation as the home to North Carolina State University and its Centennial Campus, recently named the top research park in the United States. By partnering with university officials, the Wake County Economic Development Program has created highly effective precision marketing efforts focused on recruiting and retaining bio-manufacturing, serious gaming, nonwoven textile companies and more. Only two decades old, N.C. State’s Centennial Campus now houses 26 start ups in its Technology Incubator and more than 70 corporate and government partners that employ more than 2,000 workers. Organized into educational neighborhoods that stimulate creativity and imagination, the Campus – much like our own new Georgia Gwinnett College – is a major selling point for the community. Lesson: Gwinnett will continue to focus future efforts on partnerships with our local and regional colleges and universities and strengthen the 316 corridor’s reputation as a cluster of higher education.
REVITALIZATION: Both downtown Raleigh and Durham have used their business improvement districts (BIDs) and long-term visions with solid master plans to create a renaissance in once-blighted areas of their cities. Durham’s American Tobacco Project is a complete renovation of old, abandoned warehouses in a previously run-down area of Durham into great retail, nightlife, and housing next to the Durham Bulls Stadium. It is a great example about revitalization in older Gwinnett neighborhoods as well as a live, work, play model for our new Braves stadium and development. Raleigh has lured more than $2 billion in investment into its downtown through strong public-private efforts. Lesson: Older neighborhoods and our many downtowns will be the catalyst of our own “renaissance” that can serve as magnets for the “creative class.”
Speaker after speaker, the theme was consistent: Strong public-private partnerships, spirited and visionary leadership and regional collaboration were the keys to their success. Time will tell what creative ideas and visions were stirred on this visit and how they will impact Gwinnett’s future.
The visit showed one thing that both the Research Triangle and Gwinnett County have in common – an unmatched visionary and motivated attitude led by the public-private community and its Partnership Gwinnett vision for the future.