Maintaining Momentum: Our History & Foundation

By: Ted Abernathy, Economic Leadership LLC

Maintaining Momentum is a blog series written by Ted Abernathy, a leader in advancing economic development across North Carolina.

Over the past 25 years, Raleigh, Wake County and the Research Triangle region have experienced an unprecedented, and if we are all honest, somewhat surprising, surge in economic success. Locals knew that this was a great place to live and that we had wonderful universities, but we also knew that most of the country didn’t know much about us. Then momentum started building.

Like most successful places, it did not happen overnight. Building our foundation for success is a very long story (we might need a porch glider and a glass of sweet tea). In 1792, when Raleigh was designated as the state capital, one of the main reasons was its status as a transportation hub. Roads north to Petersburg, south to Charleston, west to Salem and east to the coast created access for government and commerce. Transportation remains important today, and the presence of the Capitol has anchored downtown Raleigh. 

Another reason Raleigh’s oak groves were chosen for the capital was the proximity to the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill (est. 1789). Proximity to higher education remains critical today. There is also an often-told story about one of the reasons being Raleigh’s close proximity to a popular tavern of the day. Access to entertainment remains a key attractor.

About 100 years later, the founding of North Carolina State University added another piece to the foundation. In the middle of the 20th century, the development of the Raleigh-Durham International Airport and the founding of Research Triangle Park provided two other critical pieces. The formation of a groundbreaking community college system with targeted industry training gave the state and the region another competitive advantage. Federal labs anchored new environmental and health research. North Carolina’s state investments in the Biotech Center and the Microelectronics Center provided a way to attract and support new industries. Informatics, therapeutics, gaming and cleantech exploded, bringing new jobs and businesses big and small. Regional organizations sprang up to support entrepreneurs, build leaders, attract capital and tell the world just how wonderful our corner of the world was.

The remainder of this series will explore jobs and population growth, labor force and GDP trends, and our thriving tech sector. Stay tuned.


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