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The Triangle Mystique

Discovering the key ingredients in the Research Triangle’s ecosystem has become one of the great quests in economic development.

Novan's new Hopson Road facility. -- LLM Design

Delegations from abroad and from other states routinely come seeking clues to the region’s success. Journalists have praised the area’s accomplishments. Various kinds of companies have scouted and joined our community.

But what exactly makes this ecosystem go? If it could be boiled down to one or two words, what would that be?

To step back for just a moment from this mystery, the company we work with, Longfellow Real Estate Partners, is one of those that relatively recently "discovered" and enthusiastically entered the Triangle mix. We’re interested in the life sciences and technology and the region stood out along with only a handful of other markets as particularly promising.

The assets that make the Triangle attractive to us and many others include -- perhaps even start with -- its four research universities. Longfellow, for example, has teamed up with Duke University to develop the mixed-use Durham Innovation District.

Report shows Triangle companies doing well

The breakthroughs emerging from these universities have the potential to save lives, create jobs and launch new companies. That’s where funding comes in. A recent report shows Triangle companies doing well and positioned to continue, with funding coming from within North Carolina as well as, for example, New York, California, China, Israel and Japan.

New companies, in turn, need talent to succeed. That talent might also flow out of universities or community colleges. Or from the hundreds of other life sciences companies in and around the Triangle. Or from out of town, with executives willing to relocate in part because of the Triangle’s quality of life and affordability.

Longfellow provides a complementary product and service to our Triangle partners - allowing partner companies to focus on their science or technology while we focus on providing the real estate for their next innovation.  For example, Liquidia Technologies, which has roots in university research, three years ago spun out a company called Envisia Therapeutics. Liquidia makes its home in our Keystone Technology Park, and we recently placed an expanding Envisia in another Longfellow community, Royal Center and Exchange Place.

For us, that’s proof of the Triangle ecosystem working on all of its major cylinders. And it’s not an isolated case. In October, we helped move fast-growing Novan, Inc. into a new corporate headquarters and manufacturing facility on Hopson Road in RTP.

Board Chairman Bob Ingram, a legendary former GSK exec now with Hatteras Venture Partners, spoke at the ribbon cutting as did U.S. Sen. Richard Burr. In celebrating Novan’s growth, both leaders cited the formidable musculature the Triangle ecosystem has developed over the decades in terms of research, funding and working as a team. But both men also noted that maintaining that musculature requires vigilance. And that brings us back to those key ingredients.

Talent, change define Triangle's growth

The life science sector has changed dramatically since the days when a few giants straddled the field. Giants remain and continue to do big things, but smaller companies are driving considerable innovation. Collaborations with universities to help identify and commercialize promising research are different and more frequent than when the Research Triangle was coming into its own decades ago.

Our ecosystem’s key ingredients then, the ones that may go overlooked, are talent and evolution. Change is inevitable but that doesn’t mean all people or all regions are ready or willing to deal with it. The Triangle has proven it is up to the challenges posed not only by the ups, downs and trends of any major industry but its talented workforce adapts quickly and those adaptations are often at the cutting edge of innovation.

The Research Triangle area is also fortunate to have invested leaders like Bob Ingram, reliable business resources like the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, NCBIO and the Council for Entrepreneurial Development, loadbearing infrastructure like our universities and -- increasingly -- the indefatigable energy of entrepreneurs.

When we collaborate with a partner company to move or expand in order to meet its needs, we’re collaborating with this exceptional region’s talented workforce and leaders to keep North Carolina innovation rolling. 

Adam Sichol is managing partner and Jessica Brock a managing director at Longfellow Real Estate Partners.

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