The David Rall Bldg. is one of several NIEHS structures in Research Triangle Park. RTP is 7 miles long and 2 miles wide, with NIEHS overlooking the lake in the center of the park. The master plan calls for making nodes within RTP more walkable.
Photo: Steve McCaw
Research Triangle Park (RTP) is North Carolina’s most recognizable district for research and development, but to keep up with competition from domestic and international research clusters, RTP planners want to bring in more retail, residential, hotel and educational facilities. Since NIEHS has been a long-time resident of RTP, Liz Rooks, executive vice president and chief operating officer for the Research Triangle Foundation of North Carolina, came to the institute recently to give an overview of the plan and answer questions about the future of the park.
As Rooks explained, in 1959, North Carolina had the second lowest per capita income in the U.S., surpassing only Mississippi. With an economic system based on small-scale farming and three low-wage industries—textiles, tobacco and furniture manufacturing—then North Carolina Gov. Luther Hodges charged a committee of businessmen, academicians and community leaders to come up with a way to improve the state’s economy.
“We had three strong universities, but the graduates of those schools, particularly those in math and science, were leaving because they couldn’t find jobs here,” Rooks added. “The committee’s idea was to bring research industry here and, with that, the Research Triangle Foundation was born.”
A few small companies relocated to the area, but job growth was slow until 1965, when NIEHS became the first major tenant to announce that its campus would come to RTP. Since then, the RTP community has grown to include more than 170 companies with more than 39,000 full-time workers. With an annual payroll of $2.9 billion, this 7,000-acre economic engine is poised to drive North Carolina and the region into a new era of prosperity.
Rooks said the foundation board surveyed RTP companies on the park’s strengths and weaknesses and enlisted the help of a prominent New York architecture and urban design firm to develop a 50-year master plan (see www.rtp.org/about-rtp/planning-and-progress).
The plan has several overall goals such as retaining existing tenants, continuing to attract large and small companies and recruiting a broad range of new tenants, which should bring a variety of hotels, restaurants, specialty shops and housing to RTP. The designs also include commuter rail stations and developing common open spaces that preserve and enhance the park’s natural beauty.
Rooks said that multiple projects will be phased in over time and that the foundation will continue to work to build a better, stronger RTP.—Robin Arnette