Transformation Through Collaboration in the Research Triangle Region

By Lee Anne Nance

Executive Vice President Lee Anne Nance joined the Research Triangle Regional Partnership (RTRP) in 2009, where she manages implementation of the region's strategic growth plan as well as regional marketing and branding activities. Lee Anne also serves as Managing Director of the Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster (RTCC), a program of RTRP.

Sep 10, 2013 | Smart Cities | 0 comments

My organization, the Research Triangle Regional Partnership (RTRP), has been at the economic development game for more than two decades.  RTRP leads economic development strategy for—and works with a wide range of partners to market—the region within a sixty-mile radius of the Research Triangle Park (RTP).

We’re in the business of broadcasting the innovations of others: the people, companies, educational institutions and research organizations that foster regional economic growth and prosperity.

It’s our job to talk about others’ innovations. But we also practice it ourselves.

With the launch of our newest program, the Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster, we’ve gotten creative with our economic development strategy by incubating a trade association within our larger and well-networked marketing organization.  One day, we’ll spin it out. Our primary goal is to infuse what many will agree is a nascent industry sector, cleantech, with our well-honed collection of collaborations and experiences. It’s very much a 1+1=3 equation.

The Triple Helix Model

For us, there’s a rich history of collaboration in the Research Triangle Region (we call it the Triple Helix model) that proposes significant competitive advantage from uniting and leveraging the region’s collective assets of businesses, governments and nonprofits, and academia. We will show that applying the Triple Helix model to accelerate the region’s cleantech economy will ensure business growth and jobs in our own backyard —and leadership in cleantech invention and manufacturing that serves the globe.

People around the world ask us how we deploy the Triple Helix model—not just in cleantech but in many other regionally relevant industry sectors from life sciences to analytical instrumentation, pervasive computing, nanotech and interactive gaming.  The list is long and rather technical!

What we tell them is that it starts with identifying core competencies.  In the case of cleantech, a June 2013 report from RTI International and a 2011 Duke University study identified a dense and rapidly expanding concentration of companies working in the region’s smart grid, smart water and smart transportation sectors. Many operate corporate, division or national headquarters in the region, which increases the region’s importance and prominence.

In fact, the latest round of research showed that the smart grid sector in the Triangle region has 60 percent more firms now than previously known just two years ago. Ninety-six smart grid companies were identified in the Triangle, up from 59 in 2011. Fourteen percent of those companies have been established in the last five years, suggesting rapid growth in one of the main sectors of the cleantech industry in the region.

Combined, the region’s companies run the gamut from electric and water metering companies to transmission and distribution companies, to supportive technology, analytics and communications software companies, to utility providers and energy efficiency companies.

While we believe the Research Triangle Region is perfectly positioned and uniquely qualified to become a global hub for cleantech companies, innovation and talent, we also think the strategic elements of our model can be replicated by communities elsewhere.  In fact, when the International Cleantech Network (ICN) approached the Research Triangle Region about becoming one of only two U.S. affiliate members, the ICN was specific in their request that our region engage the eight other ICN member countries to help them learn our region’s approach to meeting our economic development goals.

We’ve done just that, most recently in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2011; Bangkok, Thailand in 2012; and Hamburg, Germany and Paris, France in 2013.

Chatham Park Clean Technology Partnership

And we’re launching a project to do it here at home through our Chatham Park Clean Technology Partnership.  Chatham Park is a proposed 7,000 acre master-planned community in the southwest corner of the Research Triangle Region that will provide a platform for scaled clean technologies being developed and brought to market by the companies located here.

The development will not only showcase technologies, it will yield a bumper crop of Triple Helix-approved strategies. RTCC and Chatham Park will:

  • facilitate strategic partnerships;
  • leverage utility partners’ capabilities to deploy digitally enabled infrastructure;
  • enable widespread deployment of consumer end products;
  • lead to large-scale improvements in home, building and community resource management;
  • accelerate the innovations occurring around microgrids, alternative fuel vehicles, smart water networks, and advanced transportation;
  • and engage area research universities and other learning organizations

Our relationship with ICN has shown us that cleantech clusters are often anchored by a demonstration project that showcases capabilities. Ft. Collins, Colorado has a zero-energy district called Fort ZED. In Demark, there’s the Copenhagen Cleantech Park, a full scale demonstration of integrated solutions. Chatham Park provides an extraordinary opportunity to showcase the technologies being developed and brought to market by the companies that are driving the cleantech industry globally.

We often say that the Research Triangle Park is one of our region’s most cherished legacies.  Chatham Park plants another flag in the ground to enhance our reputation as a hub of research, technology and smart growth – and now, certainly, cleantech innovation.

When we say we are America’s Research Triangle Region, Chatham Park is an example we will use to show the world what that means.  Innovation. It’s in our DNA.


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