As soon as Amazon announced in January that the Triangle was on its short list for a $5 billion second headquarters, dubbed HQ2, there was a debate over whether the tech giant’s arrival would be a good or bad thing.
Not that this was a debate among our civic leaders, all of whose hearts went so aflutter at the thought of such a massive infusion into the local tax base that they were almost certainly willing to shell out hundreds of millions—if not billions—of dollars in incentives to make it happen. (They’ve kept the offer secret, of course.) But there were a few of us who saw what Amazon has meant for its home in Seattle and figured some critical thinking was in order: Can the Triangle actually handle the fifty-thousand jobs Amazon wants to create? How would the development affect our already red-hot real estate market? And as a moral matter, should local governments be tripping over themselves to make the second most valuable public company in the world even wealthier?
There was also speculation about where HQ2 would go—Downtown Raleigh? Research Triangle Park?—and whether Amazon, which signaled that protections for LGBTQ employees were a priority in its search, would even want to come to the state of “bathroom bill” infamy.
Before we got answers to these questions, rumors circulated that another tech heavyweight—Apple—was eyeing Raleigh for its $600 million fourth campus, accommodating ten thousand jobs. Holy crap! (Apple, too, seems a little put off by our legislature’s tendencies toward bigotry and chaos, which is perhaps why a deal that appeared all set to go in June hasn’t been inked by the time this magazine went to press in October.)
It’s no wonder everybody is checking us out. The Triangle, despite feeling very much to the contrary, is still a relatively affordable place to live compared with other cities. Plus, it’s home to world-class universities and an already burgeoning tech scene.
Few would argue that North Carolina’s tech scene wasn’t born in Research Triangle Park, a sprawling tract of land that stretches more than seven thousand acres, employs nearly fifty thousand people, and houses hundreds of companies, including industry giants IBM, Lenovo, and Cisco.
The people flocking to tech jobs in the Triangle are contributing to a real estate frenzy in Durham and Wake Counties, driving up prices, and dictating the use (and reuse) of downtown buildings. Countless lists rank Durham, Raleigh, and the Triangle as a whole as up-and-coming tech markets poised to succeed in an increasingly digital world.
Local biotechnology companies seem to be leading the charge. According to the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, the industry has an $86 billion economic impact on the state. Forty-five percent of RTP firms are in the biotech game.
But innovation isn’t limited to the park: Researchers at UNC are working on a non-addictive alternative to opioid painkillers, and the Duke Cancer Institute is studying the treatment of brain tumors with poliovirus. Neat, huh?