I had a chance last week to experience some great southern hospitality with a visit to the Raleigh-Durham, N.C., area. I joined other business and community leaders from our area with the mission of meeting with key leaders in the area known as The Triangle to learn some best practices that have contributed to their success.
The Raleigh Chamber and the Durham Chamber served as gracious hosts. Both have great passion for their areas and have been key drivers to the economic success experienced in the region. They work closely together, and both were eager to share some insight into how they have gotten to where they are today, some of the key decisions the community made along the way, the leadership required to inspire change and the lessons they have learned.
Some may argue that our area/region is nothing like Raleigh-Durham and hence not the right place to study. I agree there are many differences, but I found as many similarities as I did differences and some key takeaways that I hope help us here in our pursuits.
First, I found many individual communities that have worked hard to grow their own areas, while at the same time touting a shared vision for the region. I did not know where Raleigh started or Durham ended, or when I was in Chapel Hill, Cary, Zebulon or Fuquay Varina. I just knew I was in the Triangle area and when I talked to individuals, they all “owned” and touted the benefits and amenities of the region in addition to their own community.
Imagine if South Bend, Mishawaka, Elkhart, Goshen, Plymouth, Warsaw and each of the other smaller communities thought and worked in a similar fashion. As a region we have wonderful assets. Individually we are limited.
I found a great deal of trust between the leaders of the different communities. Leaders first were worried about landing projects in the Triangle area and then about where it landed in the region. For example, leaders in the region meet at least monthly to share business leads, talk about opportunities and develop strategies to move the region forward. I didn’t see any time wasted fighting among the different jurisdictions over the trivial matters that often hold our region back.
I saw a region that placed a high priority on creating an environment for entrepreneurs to succeed. That environment encourages people to take risks and has a supportive environment that includes everything from counseling to space to financial support. The emphasis on quality of place and the physical features of a community that are attractive to young entrepreneurial types also was a real advantage.
I saw universities like Duke, UNC and NC State play an important role in the development of the community — from the things the students do to volunteer and support the community, to their role as a large employer, to the major investments the universities make in the area, to the research happening on campus that is growing out into real business opportunities in the region.
The high concentration of college students in the area makes it an attractive talent pool for potential employers.The Raleigh-Durham area has some wonderful things going on in their two downtowns as well as at NC State’s Centennial Campus, at the Research Triangle Park, at the former American Tobacco Warehouse, the American Underground and at many other locations in the region.
But we, too, have many wonderful assets to build upon here in our region. It’s up to us now to do what that area did to ensure future success. We must work together on a vision for this region and we must all “own” and champion the great assets available here. Our future depends upon it.