By Adrienne Cole, Wake County Economic Development Executive Director
In today’s global economy, fiber optic networks are an essential part of our economic development toolkit. Communities with high-speed broadband service will have a leg up in an increasingly competitive marketplace. In the Triangle, intentional investments in traditional and digital infrastructure have been made to ensure our continued success.
The region’s GDP growth has outpaced both the state and nation. Last year, Wake County celebrated more than 100 new and expanding company announcements, creating nearly 5,000 jobs and investing $450 million in our market. Many of these were in the technology sector, reflecting research that Raleigh experienced the second greatest increase in technology jobs from 2010-2015, behind only San Francisco. Our region is also deemed a “brainpower cluster,” with one of the highest concentrations of well-educated talent in the country. These clusters are correlated with higher levels of innovation and a strong high-tech industry.
We are recognized across the country as a top center for entrepreneurship and innovation. Raleigh alone is home to more than 500 startup companies, totaling 2,500 jobs in a wide range of industry sectors. In 2015, Raleigh startups raised over $175 million in capital. From 2014-2015, funding for N.C. startups doubled, with Triangle companies accounting for more than 80 percent of these deals. Nationally, the region logged the fourth most IPOs from 2010-2014, compared to Atlanta, Austin, Chicago, Denver and Seattle, according to the Council for Entrepreneurial Development (CED).
Companies of all sizes in diverse industries are driving innovation – from biotech to medicine, defense to interactive gaming, and cleantech to software development. These industries are converging, resulting in new technologies that are providing solutions to complex global problems. This convergence is evidenced by our growth as a leader in the Internet of Things (IoT), data analytics and one of only 11 internationally recognized clusters for smart grid innovation. These thriving industries are powered by access to highly skilled talent, tier-one research universities and key resources all working in tandem to help companies start, land, and scale here. As we look to build on our momentum, these sectors all depend on the most advanced communications technology available.
For many years, a company’s decision to locate a new facility, or relocate an existing one, was determined by more conventional infrastructure, such as highways, airports or power lines. While these are still major factors, today’s decision makers are also looking to the availability of high-speed digital infrastructure.
Speed and agility are required to prosper in a fast-moving economy. Businesses are continually sharing real-time information with key stakeholders. By delivering high-speed connectivity, fiber optic networks empower a business to operate more efficiently, enabling them to respond effectively to evolving marketplace demands.
In the Triangle, I have been encouraged by the increased focus on fiber networks in just the last few years. In 2014, for example, AT&T launched its gigabit network, called AT&T Fiber, as part of the NC Next Generation Network (NCNGN) project. We are the second market in the country to receive the all-fiber network, which the company has rolled out in 19 other markets nationwide and announced plans for an additional 38. Last month, Google Fiber arrived in the Triangle with its debut in Morrisville. Google decided to launch first in Morrisville due to the proximity to RTP, a global tech center.
In addition to AT&T and Google Fiber, the region has secured high-speed broadband offerings from Celito Fiber and Frontier FiOS, among other top service providers. This type of investment creates a powerful tool for long-term economic development for our communities. Other digitally connected markets, like Austin and Kansas City, have proven that fiber networks have a significant impact on local economies.
As we continue to work together to ensure our success as a leading region for innovation, secure access to dedicated, real-time communications services will allow us to remain highly competitive in a global economy.