RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Should neither Apple nor Amazon ultimately decide to expand to the Triangle region, the Raleigh-Durham metro area is likely to land at least one other substantial project if not more in the near future.

In fact, one executive directly involved in economic development says the Triangle faces a “tidal wave” of new development with or without the two high-tech giants.

“We need to be talking right now and preparing for all the growth that is coming,” the executive warned. An economic forecast earlier this year predicted the Triangle would add 25,000 jobs this year alone – without a “whale” as NCSU economist Dr. Michael Walden termed Amazon and Apple. Combined, Amazon and Apple could produce as many as 60,000 jobs in North Carolina with most of those in the Triangle over a period of several years.

Concurring with those tidal wave thoughts are a site consultant and a  developer, both of whom are in direct contact with companies who are considering the Triangle. Each executive agreed to speak not for attribution, given the sensitivity of business development negotiations and clients they represent. Their comments support on-the-record observations and data provided by government and private sector organizations.

“We have unicorns – even decacorns – looking at the Triangle,” said the consultant who represents one of the firms thinking seriously about RTP as an expansion site.

Unicorns are emerging entrepreneurial companies that are valued at $1 billion or more by venture capitalists.

Decacorns are valued at $10 billion or more. Among the decacorns are such firms as Uber and Airbnb.

WeWork, a global provider of shared office space and startup services, is a decacorn that’s already planning to open co-working spaces in Durham and Raleigh.

The consultant also hinted that a major corporate global giant other than Apple and Amazon is mulling the Triangle for expansion.

The developer, who has deep experience in the Triangle, said he is aware of at least two firms he described as “major” are drawn to the Triangle for new offices. However, he said neither would be a corporate headquarters.

“We typically don’t draw company headquarters,” he said of the RTP area. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t land substantial operations.”

More Amazon HQ2-Apple coverage

Apple is currently negotiating an expansion worth some $1.5 billion with new operations to be established in Cary and a corporate campus in the southern portion of Research Triangle Park, sources have told WRAL TechWire.

Apple is committed to investing $30 billion and hiring 20,000 people, according to CEO Tim Cook.

Amazon, meanwhile, has listed the Triangle has one of 20 finalists for its HQ2 project that would be worth $5 billion and generate 50,000 jobs.

Status of the negotiations about both companies have been shrouded in secrecy.

A big pipeline of opportunities

Recently, Gov. Roy Cooper told WRAL that North Carolina is in constant communication with companies that are considering the state as a site for new jobs and facilities.

And the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce noted in a Wake County Economic Development update that a lengthy list of companies are considering expanding here.

  • The update cited 72 companies (all unnamed)
  • Combined they would produce more than 21,000 jobs
  • The potential investment totaled $5.5 billion
  • As of April, projects considered “active” represented 51 projects, more than 14,500 jobs and $4.1 billion in potential investment.

Even if Amazon decides not to pick the Triangle, the process the ecommerce giant has pursued in picking a potential site will benefit the Triangle, the site consultant said.

“I know from comments made that companies are following the methodology Amazon is using,” he said.

Amazon has said from the start of its process launched last year that its criteria for selection include education, access to mass transit, sustainability, connectivity to fiber networks, incentives, labor force and quality of life.

“We know why companies want to come here,” the property developer said. “Quality of life, more high-quality universities, workforce, and much more.”

General Assembly blesses incentives

Meanwhile, sources say negotiations continue between Apple and North Carolina officials. What could prove to be a significant step was taken on Tuesday when the Republican-controlled General Assembly overrode a veto of the state budget by the governor. The override thus made changes to changes in incentives that could be offered for what is called a “transformative project.”

Apple and Amazon would fit the incentive criteria.

The budget increases the amount of money available for the program, extends the numbers of years companies can collect incentives, and reduces the job creation threshold so Apple as well as Amazon would qualify.

House Senior Budget Writer Nelson Dollar said overriding the governor’s veto and putting those changes into law could lead to a big boost in the local economy.

“Five thousand jobs right here in the triangle,” Dollar told WRAL Capitol Bureau Chief Laura Leslie. “I’m not voting against bringing 5,000 jobs here to the Triangle. I think that’s huge. That’s transformative.”

Dollar said he had not heard anything solid at this point on either Amazon or Apple, but he said he’s hopeful.

House minority leader Darren Jackson, who also represents Wake County, told Leslie that he’s hopeful, too.

“I’ve heard at least two names. There could be more,” he said.

“I think that could be very helpful to us in recruiting these companies.”

But other parts of the budget may not be as helpful, including a provision that essentially bans light rail by making it impossible for projects in this state to meet matching requirements for federal grants.  Jackson said that could be a red flag for tech companies, especially Amazon. The wording was changed later, according to WRAL’s Travis Fain and Leslie.