North Carolina, when infrastructure creates a hub for young talents and companies

The role of infrastructure in making the universities of the Triangle capable of attracting talents from across the United States.

Around the end of August each year, movable homes become a common sight along America’s roads headed in any direction: south, north, east or west. Not the so-called RVs, recreational vehicles, super-equipped for on-the-road vacations. No, these are cars overloaded with luggage, blankets, mirrors, clothes, stationery, and personal possessions. Even mini-fridges, since they will be sold out at the destination. Entire rooms were emptied and compressed to fit inside the car. It’s the annual migration of college students, especially first-year students, freshmen, for whom boarding is mandatory and who will share a room with a complete stranger.

For parents, the important thing is to verify that their children find, at least in part, a familiar environment in the university dorm. There are no limits to the journey, it could be hundreds or thousands of miles. From then on it’s just FaceTime or other video calls to keep connected with the kids. From there on their adult lives begin.

North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park

Choosing which college to apply to depends on so many factors, from course offerings to sports activities, from the number of students per teacher to the final graduation rate. Each state has its own areas of excellence, which are in direct proportion to the quality of investment in infrastructure. North Carolina is rapidly climbing the ranks of the fastest-growing areas in the United States, leveraging the quality of its university offerings and its focus on improving access to facilities.

Around the capital city of Raleigh, the state has been working since the 1960s to create a prestigious hub by linking the top three colleges — Duke University in Durham, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and North Carolina State University in Raleigh – that is now the largest research park in the United States. Known as Research Triangle Park (RTP) or, simply, as The Triangle, it has become capable of attracting another dozen affiliate colleges and universities, and is a magnet for more than 300 top companies in research, medicine, and high tech, with highly skilled jobs for more than 60,000 people.

Infrastructure to support the development of an academic hub

The expansion of the area, though sustainable development, has been promoted by major investments to facilitate mobility, with new roads and residences. Access routes to the capital and the other two cities in the Triangle are being continuously expanded. Lane Construction (Webuild Group) has been working alongside local governments for 30 years, connecting Greensboro (north of the Triangle, North Carolina’s third-largest city) with Charlotte, North Carolina’s largest.

As part of the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s (NCDOT) Complete 540 project to build a complete loop around Raleigh to alleviate rush-hour traffic congestion, Lane is now building the extension of the NC-540 Triangle Expressway on a new alignment between Wake and Johnston counties, from US 401 to the intersection with Interstate I-40. At the same time, it working on the widening of I-40 in Orange County from four to six lanes for 11 miles, from I-85 to the Durham County line. In Wake County, it is improving the roadway along I-440, one of the oldest roads around the Triangle.

As a result of the pandemic, the Triangle is attracting more companies in the bio-medicine, pharmaceutical, and health innovation sectors. “The life sciences sector is one of our target industries here in the Triangle,” Michael Haley, Wake County’s executive director of economic development and senior vice president of the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, told the Triangle Business Journal. The Triangle has established itself by first attracting the interest of small businesses and, gradually, big names. Cities such as Durham — once dedicated only to the tobacco industry — have quickly been transformed as hubs for high-tech.

Big tech attracted to the Carolinas

Giants such as Google and Apple have chosen the Triangle for new campuses, research institutes and offices. Google announced last year it will create an engineering hub in Durham focused on cloud computing, capable of eventually creating 1,000 jobs. “We help companies and organisations transform digitally, and to meet this challenge, we need the most talented team possible, and the Triangle region has some of the best and brightest engineers in the world,” said Marian Croak, vice president of engineering for Google.

Apple also announced in 2021 a $1 billion-plus campus and engineering center in the coming years in the Raleigh area, which will create 3,000 high-paying jobs in artificial intelligence, software engineering, and other cutting-edge fields such as machine learning. In addition to the new campus, the company will invest $100 million to support schools and community initiatives in the Triangle and allocate more than $110 million to infrastructure in the 80 North Carolina counties with the most need.

“The purpose of this project is transformative,” North Carolina Secretary of Commerce Machelle Sanders said at the announcement. “It means new jobs, careers. It means an influx of people moving in. It means new partnerships and opportunities.” The investment, tied to major tax benefits for Apple in job creation, will have a multiplier effect, however. “It also means growth for other companies and industries,” Sanders added, “such as real estate, retail, hospitality, among others.”