Earlier this year, the state of North Carolina and communities across the nation were abuzz at the possibility of recruiting Amazon and Apple to build new headquarters in their neck of the woods. This revolutionary moment in the history of economic development highlighted the potency of public-private partnerships for strategic development across the nation.
The Town of Wake Forest has long understood one of the strongest tools for steady and sustainable development are these “P3s” (public-private partnerships) driven by knowledge, technology, entrepreneurship and innovation.
With progressive foresight into these strategic growth opportunities, the Town of Wake Forest provided initial funding to help launch the Wireless Research Center in 2010 as a private, independent nonprofit organization dedicated to innovation and collaboration as a shared resource. This whole endeavor garnered public resources, including two grants from the N.C. Golden Leaf Foundation of approximately $1.5 million.
Now independently functioning and committed to jumpstarting the growth of other entrepreneurs, the WRC specializes in communications engineering, and hosts world-class wireless testing equipment and a commercialization center with shared business incubator office space.
In partnership with the Wireless Research Center, both in regard to shared vision and resource development, the Town’s economic development initiatives are now focused on providing innovation infrastructure to help accelerate development of entrepreneurs and other job opportunities. Part of the strategic vision behind this emphasis operates by providing a layer of strategically focused programming that brings together entrepreneurs with communities of mentors who have networks with regional, national, and global business partners and investors as a catalyst for growth.
Development of this innovation infrastructure includes two major projects for the Town and private partners. These include the development of a new downtown business incubator led by a private coworking firm in collaboration with the WRC, and a new mixed-use nearly 200-acre technology park where people will live, work and play in a “walkable” community with high-tech office spaces, cultural amenities and a variety of retail, dining and living options.
The vision includes a variety of strategic components found in Wake Forest that will be leveraged to help grow businesses ranging from the communications engineering, testing and development found at the WRC, to lawyers who help form businesses and file patents, and marketers with experience in web design, writing and photography – all in a welcoming community environment that nurtures creativity, innovation and collaboration.
The strategic vision, a sort of vision 2.0, extends the Town’s original partnership with the WRC from 2010 to build a collaborative ecosystem that will emphasize mentorship and the sharing of expertise and resources.
The Wireless Research Center was initially founded in Wake Forest because of the appealing quality of life in the town and region at a time when the Research Triangle Park was experiencing an exodus of communications companies. The Town’s openness for partnerships with the private sector for technology-led economic development was the genesis of the WRC.
Creating a collaborative environment through public-private partnerships and providing a supportive infrastructure is how the Town serves its role to help companies create jobs.
The WRC is focused on wireless communication technology. This next phase for the public private partnership with the Town will broaden its reach to many other types of companies.
The town is bringing together private stakeholders, business partners and a collaborative culture in a community of professionals with expertise and experience to advance innovation. A synergistic ecosystem of resources and support will foster innovation that creates companies and job growth, and an even better town to call home.
Just a few years after the launch of the WRC, the N.C. Regional Internet of Things (RIoT) was created as a WRC economic development initiative to establish partnerships and collaboration for the Internet of Things – the wireless interconnection of everyday devices. Thinking progressively, the WRC recognized that significant advances in technological innovation is rooted in connecting equipment, supplies, products and infrastructure to a centralized system, and that these innovations will transform business and industry around the globe.
The WRC initiative, RIoT, has now grown to include more than 7,000 members and 80 company sponsors throughout the nation.
As a result of the WRC’s unique business model, companies of all sizes have access to the WRC’s equipment, engineering and strategic business services that, through 2018, have helped 21 start-up companies in Wake Forest and 60 companies at the WRC’s RIoT locations in Raleigh.
Due to the significant growth and demand of this unique space, earlier this year, the WRC commercialization center was expanded from 8,000 square feet to 12,000 square feet.
Then and now, the Town of Wake Forest is a growing, vibrant community to live, work and raise a family that’s conveniently situated in the booming Research Triangle Park region known globally as a technology hub. The shared vision of the Town and the WRC for the future of Wake Forest was a milestone in a strategic design that is continuing to birth more opportunities that are enhancing our community.
Looking at the recent history of Wake Forest and toward the future, we’re encouraged the population of Wake Forest has more than tripled since 2000, and that the booming growth is continuing to create an environment that attracts not just new residents, but new and innovative businesses as well.
Solo entrepreneurs often gather at coffee shops to work collaboratively. Some have migrated to coworking spaces, such as Hatch and Wake Forest Coworking in downtown Wake Forest, which are an essential part of the mix in the innovation infrastructure that is nurturing knowledge, technology and entrepreneurship.
The renaissance in the heart of Wake Forest reflects the dynamic boom occurring in the community as well.
Downtown Wake Forest is currently being revitalized with a variety of living options. Private developers are actively engaging in new, mixed-use projects featuring retail businesses and apartments, citing the town’s vibrant growth and charm as a catalyst for innovation. Downtown beautification projects are seeing millions of dollars poured into the future vibrancy and walkability of the town center. And the Town is working with more private partners to build a fiber-optic network that will expand access to digital services for businesses and homes.
These projects characterize components of strategic, future-focused growth that we find tremendously exciting for business, families, entrepreneurs, and all who live, work and play in the Town of Wake Forest.
Jason Cannon is the president of the Wake Forest Business & Industry Partnership, and Gerard Hayes is founder and CEO of the Wireless Research Center.