Editor’s note: WRAL TechWire asked Ryan Combs, head of the Research Triangle Regional Partnership, to talk about how a task force of some 100 people from across the Triangle came together to draft a proposal for the recruitment of Amazon’s massive multi-billion-dollar second headquarters project and the estimated 50,000 jobs to go along with it. As WTW prepares to launch a new web site later this month, we will be seeking more thought leaders to share their vision, dreams and goals about North Carolina’s economic and educational future. Here are the thoughts of Combs about the Amazon project and what the creation of such a task force could mean for the region.
RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – There has been tremendous excitement throughout the US and Canada over the past two months following Amazon’s public announcement of the desire to build a second headquarters (HQ2). The Research Triangle Region was one of over two hundred communities that eagerly submitted a proposal, and now, just like every other community, we wait as Amazon begins the process of narrowing the list to a small group of finalists.
Having served as the executive director of the Research Triangle Regional Partnership (RTRP) for only eight months, this was my first opportunity to witness and participate in a collaborative effort to attract a major employer.
For those who are unfamiliar with the RTRP, we serve as a regional marketing organization for 11 counties (Wake, Durham, Lee, Chatham, Wilson, Harnett, Johnston, Person, Granville, Warren, and Franklin) and the Research Triangle Park, connecting growing businesses and entrepreneurs with a region that delivers competitive and economic advantages for employers and employees. (Wake, Durham, Lee, Chatham, Wilson, Harnett, Johnston, Person, Granville, Warren, and Franklin.)
Each member of our partnership is interested in advancing their specific interest, but they all know that in an integrated economy like the Triangle, workforce and market assets are spread across the entire region, and success in one corner yields benefits like growth in rural and ex-urban areas, generating vital downtowns in many of our smaller communities.
No cannibalistic competition here
Many markets talk about their ability to cooperate across county lines, but if you scrape away the veneer you will often find cannibalistic competition among local developers. That is simply not the case in our region. Fortunately for the Triangle, our economic development organizations realize collaborating on projects, pooling resources, and working together yields tremendous benefits to all involved.
From day one, we had meetings and conference calls involving the Economic Development Partnership of NC, the Research Triangle Park, and the economic development offices of Wake, Durham, Chatham, Orange, and Johnston. What made this particular effort unique was Amazon taking the process public, when typically projects of this size are handled confidentially. This gave us an opportunity to showcase our work in a transparent, open-source manner.
As a result, for the first time, we established a task force of more than 100 business and education leaders from across the region to help make the sale. Chaired by Farad Ali of Durham, RDU Board Chair and CEO of The Institute, and Nate Spilker of Raleigh, site head at Citrix, the task force met with our professional development team to provide insight into the proposed response and offer their expertise and guidance on putting the region’s best foot forward.
“Best in class” cooperation
The task force gave our regional economic development team a new and powerful tool and proved again that the “best in class” cooperation label we receive from national project consultants is alive and well.
Scott Levitan, the new president of the Research Triangle Foundation, summed up the sentiment about the Amazon project when he said he has “never seen anything like the collaboration we have here in any of the other markets” he has worked.
The process is now in the hands of Amazon, but our work continues as our team continues to meet on a regular basis. As a result of this process we have identified some new areas of attack in articulating the region’s value proposition that we will further develop for use here and beyond.
We look forward to continuing to engage our Amazon Task Force when we make the short list because the task will only become more challenging in the days ahead.