Editor’s Note: The WRAL TechWire “Future of Work” series, supported by commercial real estate firm JLL and other partners, concludes this week, with a look ahead to the future of work and the future of the Triangle.
So far, the Future of Work series took an in-depth look at the demand for land, which can now be described as “insatiable,” while developers look to shore up their land positions. That’s especially the case in the industrial sector, the topic of the special report and in-depth Q&A, and, increasingly, the life science and biopharmaceutical sector, which the series investigated last week. Join a WRAL TechWire LinkedIn Live discussion on Tuesday, May 24 at 11 a.m. with Brett Cox, research manager at JLL, to discuss the latest trends and the future of commercial real estate in the Triangle.
RALEIGH – The Triangle will double its population. And that doubling could come soon, according to Scott Levitan, the president and CEO of the Research Triangle Foundation, who spoke with WRAL TechWire earlier this year about the future of the region.
Preparing the region for growth is already underway, and there are still many opportunities to enhance the region’s infrastructure beyond traditional roads, interstates, and bridges, Levitan noted.
The future of work in the Triangle will rely on the region’s ability to navigate the growth of the area, and in imagining a future of work that also incorporates an understanding of how people will prefer to live and recreate.
A transcript of our conversation appears below, and it has been lightly edited to enhance clarity.
Future of RTP
WRAL TechWire (TW): What’s the Triangle look like at the end of the decade? And what about in 2050?
Scott Levitan, president and CEO of the Research Triangle Foundation (Levitan): We will double in population so it is important that we plan now to implement a robust infrastructure to fix our existing infrastructure challenges and implement new function and capability.
Infrastructure goes beyond roads, highways and pipes. It includes open space, equitable public school education across the Region and inclusionary housing among others. We clearly need to add modalities to our transportation systems that may include Commuter Rail, region-wide Bus Rapid Transit, last mile solutions and robust systems for electric and autonomous vehicle implementation.
TW: What roles do the life sciences and technology sectors play in the region’s future?
Because of our reputation, university research capabilities and cluster of biotech companies, the Triangle will always lead in life sciences.
We are differentiated though in supporting clusters of companies in AgTech, FinTech, AI, Machine Learning, Gaming and others.
It would be hard to find another region in the world that can claim such cluster-power as the Triangle. These technologies have been converging over the last 20 years and are co-dependent. The relocation announcements that have accelerated over the past two years are clear indicators that our Region is where companies must locate their R&D centers.
TW: You mentioned relocation projects have accelerated in the prior two years. What are the factors important to these companies?
Levitan: The Triangle has focused on multiple talent resources and can produce a tremendous number of educated workers. Some tend to focus only on our Tier-1 Research Institutions, but that is only 1/3 of the picture. Our HBCU’s and Community Colleges are quite nimble in partnering with companies to produce new and “re-tooled” talent to fill the jobs. Tech jobs require consistent re-training as tech skills evolve in shortening cycles – 3-4 years. As a disproportionately large host for our military’s service members, North Carolina is focused on transitioning service-people into great jobs in our state. These are an extraordinary resource for talent.
Moving to the region
TW: Why, do you think, are more people moving here?
Levitan: We all need to envision future life in the Triangle and understand the opportunities available now to maintain and enhance our community for the future.
There are so many examples of regions that experienced phenomenal growth and failed to plan appropriately. Some of the key opportunities that our Region must focus on now include regional mobility, our airport, equitable and high-performing public school output, water (supply, runoff and sewage), power resources and very importantly, preservation of open space and recreational resources like trails and local sports facilities.
North Carolina utilities are leading the way to transform to 100% renewables by 2050 – North Carolina needs to lead in all of these important areas.
TW: But there’s also a housing shortage. What can the region do to address this, especially as population growth is expected?
Levitan: We need to work with our elected officials to evaluate how to generate additional property tax revenue and dedicate increases to more and affordable housing.
Annual bond referenda are not the most effective or reliable way to pay for the needs of our communities.
Increased taxes do not need to impact existing property owners; but escalations are appropriate after transactions or investments have been implemented.
The cap on gross property tax revenue pushes investments in key infrastructure into the future when it will be exponentially more expensive (or impossible as land resources get redeveloped).
HUB RTP a ‘big deal’
TW: How important will Hub RTP be in this future? What other current projects – across all sectors and geographies in the region – may be bellwethers for the future of the region?
Levitan: HUB and Frontier have already changed the perception of RTP – and not a day too early.
Of the 300 companies in the Park, 1/3 are located on the Frontier campus. These entrepreneurial, creative companies that will grow in our Region didn’t have a place in RTP 6 years ago. Densification of the region and tightening transportation networks have finally proven out RTP’s opportunity to be the center of the region and HUB is planned to anchor that role for the Park.
Our transportation and planning partners among the counties have identified opportunities to thoughtfully plan our major transportation corridors in the region to densify underutilized, transit-oriented corridors vs. rely on sprawl to meet the housing demands for our residents.
Implementing this in a way that provides opportunities for all residents to participate in our success is top focus for our organization, Research Triangle Foundation of NC and all of the companies in the Park.
Our organization is proud to have achieved 38% MWBE participation in our contracting and supplier sourcing in FY2021. We are making a big deal out of this because if a not-for-profit can make this a priority and achieve these results, we can motivate our industry partners to follow suit.
TW: So, then, what’s the latest on Hub RTP, its timeline, and other Research Triangle Foundation land and facilities?
Levitan: The $110M HUB RTP infrastructure project will complete in July 2022 and vertical construction will commence immediately. We are under agreement with residential, retail, lab, hotel and office developers. We can plan to have beers in HUB RTP in Spring 2024. In the meantime, please visit Boxyard RTP for a taste of what’s to come in the Park.
The Foundation has 40 acres available and are not aware of other parcels on the market. Related to leasing, there is continuing interest in the Frontier and we are above 95% occupancy. We have also executed a number of renewals and will be making some other leasing announcements in the future.
This editorial package was produced with funding support from JLL and other partners. WRAL TechWire retains full editorial control of all content.
The series launched here, and the second report discussed high demand. Next, the series explored the relationship between work spaces, work places, and the current labor market. The following weeks, we’ve investigated specific sectors of the real estate market including land development, commercial multifamily properties, industrial space, and life science and biopharmaceutical space.