Editor’s note: IBM, which employs more than 10,000 people across the Research Triangle Park area in what remains its largest global campus, played host to business and government leaders Thursday for the launch of its “Smarter Cities Program.” IBM provided remarks by Bob Greenberg, the company’s top state executive, to Local Tech Wire.

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Today’s event – the “North Carolina Leadership Forum: Smarter Today, Thriving Tomorrow” – is part of – an integrated, multi-year effort to bolster economic vitality and the quality of life in cities and urbanized areas. This session is one of the first in a series being held throughout the United States by IBM. Similar events will be held globally in Berlin in June of this year and in Shanghai next May.

IBM partnerships around the world have already resulted in smarter traffic in Singapore, Stockholm and Brisbane, smart electrical grids in Houston, Texas and Malta…smart healthcare in Paris and smart food tracking in Norway.

And, by working together we can have the same impact on our infrastructure right here in North Carolina.

At the heart of this opportunity is the convergence of digital and physical infrastructure.

Up to now, we’ve thought of physical infrastructure and IT infrastructure as separate entities: airports, roadways, buildings, power plants, oil wells on one hand and datacenters, PCs, cell phones, routers, broadband and other technologies on the other.

The first stuff was concrete, wires and steel … the second bits, chips and bandwidth. Now the infrastructure of atoms and the infrastructure of bits are merging into an intelligent, global infrastructure.

By taking advantage of this convergence, we can significantly increase the livability and the competitiveness of our cities and surrounding suburban support centers.

Our agenda features a number of governmental and business leaders as well as a discussion panel who can give a broader perspective on the challenges facing us as we enter into what I consider to be “phase 2” of the North Carolina’s economic miracle.

I say “phase 2” because it only 50 years ago that the Research Triangle Park -where we’re meeting today – was just scrub pines – and a dream.

A dream of North Carolina visionaries such as Romeo Guest and Luther Hodges, Archie Davis and George Simpson – to stop the “brain drain” of North Carolina graduates leaving the state – by developing the land between three major universities – UNC, North Carolina State University and Duke University into a world – class R&D Mecca.

Did it work? Did it ever…

Today, the land between Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill…..has become a “golden triangle” of opportunity for 41,000 full-time employees and 10,000 contractors….

The economic impact of RTP has spread across North Carolina and been an engine of innovation – helping to transform a state once nearly wholly dependent on industries such as furniture, agriculture and textiles – into a high tech powerhouse.

Our success as one of America’s most livable and economically successful areas has also brought the challenges associated with rapid growth.

The question we’re going to address today is – What Now?

How do we move this state into “Phase Two” of our economic miracle?

How do we make North Carolina home to the “smartest cities” in the world?

Our hope is today – by bringing together leaders like yourself from North Carolina’s business, government, academia and non-profit segments – that we can open a meaningful dialog on how IBM’s “Smart Cities” initiative can help local address the challenges such as:

Water and energy usage, healthcare, food distribution and tracking, traffic congestion and much, much more.

In October 2007, when I became IBM Senior State Executive for North Carolina, I reviewed our mission and impact in this state.

Today, we have 13,000 statewide IBMers, nearly 10,000 retirees and an overall economic impact of $3.4 billion in North Carolina.

We’re home to all of IBM’s strategic businesses –

  • Want to meet the folks that design the chips for Xbox and Sony PlayStation? They’re right over there in Building 062

 

  • The developers behind IBM Retail Store solutions … the check out devices in more than two and half million businesses? … they’re right across the hall. In fact, IBM Researchers invented the UPC code right here in North Carolina.

 

  • IBM Software and products such as BladeServers and other hardware developed in RTP are the engine behind credit card companies, airlines, banking, government infrastructure and many of the largest companies in the world.

 

  • In fact, every year, our North Carolina employees contribute more than 3,000 patents a year – or 10 percent – of IBM’s industry leading total.

And IBM continues to invest heavily in North Carolina.

Later this year, you’ll see one of the most visible results of these efforts – a $362 million data center located in an IBM building right across the courtyard from me.

When it’s completed, it will become one of IBM’s – and the world’s most efficient, “green” data centers, saving customers millions of dollars in energy and bringing an estimated 1,000 executives a year to RTP to view this showplace – generating $4.4 million annually in visitor spending.

IBM worked with many partners on this project including: the N.C. Department of Commerce, Durham County, the Durham Chamber of Commerce, and Duke Power.

I take you down this litany of accomplishments to illustrate something critical for our discussions today.

IBM RTP is at the heart of the IBM company worldwide….we’re intricately tied to the global IBM Research community…that includes eight global installations from Alamaden, California to Zurich, Switzerland and Tokyo, Japan.

We’re part of a worldwide supply chain

And a business that’s driving innovation across borders, across companies and industries.

As I look around this room today…and I’ve worked with many of you on issues affecting our state….I know that you are in leadership positions in local, national and international organizations that are also having a positive impact on North Carolina’s economic success and overall livability.

What if we came together to focus on taking North Carolina to the next level as the most efficient, smartest region in the world?

What if we harnessed the power technology to transform our healthcare systems, transportation, public safety and security — and the services provided to our citizens?

What if — we started now? Well, that’s why we’re here today.

This is a particularly historic time for addressing the challenges of our nation’s aging infrastructure and planning for an increasingly urban future

Dempsey Benton, North Carolina Director of the Office of Economic Recovery and Investment, will be covering this in much more detail later in the program…

But, as you know, North Carolina will be receiving $7.7 billion in stimulus funding as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act….

That investment will create or save more than 100,000 jobs here in North Carolina.

But, these funds are also an opportunity to more than just rebuild across the state….it’s an opportunity to fundamentally re-think the way our cities operate and services are provided to our citizens.

Think of it as moving from shovel – ready to digital ready. It’s about making what we have smarter…more efficient…whether it’s new or existing infrastructure.

The goal is better services to our citizens, a truly globally competitive business climate and being better stewards of our environment….through greener, smarter solutions.

It’s about moving forward into “phase 2” of North Carolina’s economic future.

On January 9, 1959 George Simpson, a founding father of the Research Triangle Park said, “Because North Carolina had no special advantage on resource in the area of economic development, it will be the intangible quality of the state that will determine the course of development over the next 15 years.”

Well, it’s been much longer than 15 years, but that intangible quality in North Carolina – is stronger than ever.

It’s a shared belief among business, education, government and the people of North Carolina in the promise of this state’s future.

The continued vitality of our IBM North Carolina mission is a testament to the synergy created by initiatives such as “Smarter Cities”, to the remarkable business climate of this state and to our business, education and governmental partners.

In fact, as I conclude today, I’d like to make an offer to form a working group with those of you are interested in following up on today’s discussions to help transform our cities in North Carolina.

I’d like to form a small committee to consider the outcomes of today’s discussions and to work to implement partnerships focused on “smarter” solutions to the infrastructure needs of North Carolina.

So, if you like what you hear today…please let me know. I’ve been with IBM for a – considerable period of time now – and I’ve never seen a period of time where I feel we as leaders can make a real difference in the future.

Please join me in this journey. This is nothing less than a historic opportunity to impact the future of Carolina, the United States and our global economy.

It’s about making a real difference, like the visionaries who made Research Triangle Park and the economic miracle of North Carolina possible in the first place.