RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Entrepreneurs across the Triangle are convinced more than ever that the region’s universities deliver many resources needed for economic growth and development, according to a new survey.

Entrepreneurs rank the proximity of the schools as the seventh most important factor in growing an entrepreneurial community, according to the 2007 Entrepreneurial Satisfaction Survey Report released on Thursday.

That’s a huge jump from the three previous surveys that were conducted by the Council for Entrepreneurial Development. Survey participants ranked the institutions as 21st in importance in 2001, 22nd in 2004 and 22nd in 2006.

“This is a huge jump in importance,” said Robert Caudle, CED’s public relations manager. “Obviously entrepreneurs realize the great students, the great minds and the great ideas that come out of the universities.”

Interestingly, in all four surveys entrepreneurs have ranked the proximity of universities as first in how well the Triangle performs when compared to other regions.

The universities produce many graduates with skills entrepreneurial ventures need, but the new survey found that entrepreneurs believed the Triangle could be doing a better job.

For the fourth consecutive time, entrepreneurs said access to qualified technical and non-technical workforce candidates was first in importance for growing the economy. However, they rated the Triangle’s performance as only 10th best out of 28 categories. That’s down from fourth in 2006, third in 2004 and seventh in 2001.

Access to qualified management personnel was the second most important factor, a ranking that matched the previous surveys, Entrepreneurs ranked the ability to find those people as 20th, however. That’s down from 14th in 2006, 13th in 2004 and 14th in 2001.

“Entrepreneurs need people with skills and education to fill the jobs that are available,” Caudle said.

Respondents to the survey are well aware of people needs. More than 60 percent of those participating have started or held senior positions with at least two entrepreneurial ventures.

Access to financing also continues to be a pressing need, the survey showed.

“They are all starved for venture capital,” Caudle explained.

While access to expansion capital was ranked third in importance for growth, entrepreneurs ranked the Triangle 26th in the 28 categories of performance.

Access to seed capital was ranked eighth in importance, but entrepreneurs ranked the Triangle’s performance as 27th.

While concerns about venture capital remain high, with 49 percent of respondents saying they utilized venture capital or angel funding or both. That’s an increase from 43 percent in 2006.

With venture and seed capital hard to find, entrepreneurs are putting more emphasis on access to alternative financing, such as grants and loans. It ranked fifth in performance, up from seventh in 2006 and 16th in 2004. Alternative financing was not listed as a category in 2001.

"CED’s Entrepreneurial Satisfaction Survey is a great way to benchmark regional perception and stimulate discussion on how to maintain the Research Triangle’s competitive advantage over similar high-growth entrepreneurial communities," said CED President Monica Doss. “The survey is an important tool to help identify the resources that the Triangle and CED need to provide an entrepreneur-friendly environment."

The survey offered participants a menu of factors to rank numerically on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being most important.

In addition to the proximity of research universities, the Triangle scored best in access to research corporations (second), entrepreneurial support organizations (third), average climate (fourth) and availability of IT infrastructure (fifth.)