RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — While surveys continue to show the Triangle as a pleasant place to live, a good area to start a business, and a region blessed by strong universities and a good base of talent, the economic downturn in 2000-2002 showed it remains vulnerable.

The worst sees over — for now. A crowd estimated at some 600 people turned out Tuesday to hear the latest news about restoring some of the economic luster to the Research Triangle region. But many challenges remain ahead.

“Many regions around the country used to be great. We don’t want those of us who are still around 25 years from now to talk about how great this place ‘used’ to be back at the turn of the century,” said Charles Hayes, CEO and president of the Research Triangle Regional Partnership, which hosted the meeting. “We must take steps now to compete globally to ensure we win the jobs wars of the future.”

The partnership released statistics showing that the Triangle economy is on the rebound. Among the trends were:

  • A 2 percent drop in the unemployment rate — to 4 percent — since 2002

  • The addition of 19,000 workers, increasing employment in the region to 838,141, compared to 10,000 jobs lost in 2002

  • Layoffs reduced to 8,218, down from 18,537 in 2000

  • Overall increase in wages of 2.6 percent, double that of 2002

  • A 5 percent increase in retail sails, up from 3 percent in 2002
  • However, weak spots remain, such as a 17 percent loss in manufacturing jobs since 1998 and “very high” vacancy rates for commercial real estate.

    Organizers used the “State of the Research Triangle Region” to tout their regional economic development plan, the goal of which is to create 100,000 new jobs.

    “I believe we can continue to be successful if we act together and focus on innovation,” said former governor Jim Hunt, who is the chairman of the task force project titled :Staying on Top: Winning the Job Wars of the Future.”

    “We have an opportunity to continue to be a great region, an opportunity to spread the prosperity to more counties and more people, and an opportunity to improve the quality of life for every citizen,” Hunt said.

    Hunt recently returned from a trip to the Far East, and he warned that countries there are determined to continue to take American jobs.

    “Those people in those areas of the world have gotten a lot of our jobs, and I want to tell you, they intend to get more,” The News & Observer quoted him as saying.
    “They intend to beat us with brainpower,” Hunt said, according to The Herald-Sun. “We have a heck of a job ahead.”

    The Research Triangle region comprises Chatham, Durham, Franklin, Granville, Harnett, Johnston, Lee, Moore, Orange, Person, Vance, Wake and Warren counties.

    The task force has a budget of $5 million and is focused on increasing jobs in 10 areas. They are:

  • Pharmaceuticals

  • Biological agents and infectious diseases

  • Agricultural biotechnology

  • Pervasive computing

  • Advanced medical care

  • Analytical instruments

  • Nanoscale technologies

  • Informatics

  • Vehicle component parts

  • Logistics and distribution
  • Research Triangle Regional Partnership: www.researchtriangle.org