Early 1950s

A future for industrial development

In the early 1950s, North Carolina struggled to build a competitive industrial economy.

Like much of the South, our economic growth still depended heavily on agriculture and low-wage manufacturing jobs. The post-WWII generation enjoyed access to education thanks to the proliferation of universities and community colleges — but many were unable to find the high-paying jobs they were qualified for without leaving the state. The resulting brain drain threatened to leave us with an aging population and a stagnant economy.

“The simple reason for the creation of the concept that has made the Research Triangle was to diversify the economy. The other most important reason was to reverse the brain drain — the outmigration of our young people.”
— Elizabeth J. Aycock, North Carolina leader and philanthropist




Investing in community colleges

Since North Carolina’s founders built the University of North Carolina at Chapel HIll, our state has prided itself on investing in education. Later, state leaders created what are today NC State University and NC Central as public universities aimed at educating North Carolina’s children from all backgrounds and races. Duke University, one of the country’s leading private universities, added to the “intellectual climate” that business and government leaders identified in the Triangle.

In 1957, Governor Luther Hodges, members of the North Carolina General Assembly, and other state leaders renewed our commitment to education by launching the Community College System. By 1961, five colleges had been established around the state: The College of the Albemarle in Elizabeth City, Wilmington College in Wilmington, Mecklenburg College and Charlotte College in Charlotte, and Asheville-Biltmore College in Asheville.

Today, the North Carolina’s Community College System is the nation’s third largest, with an annual enrollment of more than 800,000 students on campuses that are located within 30 miles of 99.9 percent of the population.



Early 1950s

Betting on the region’s tradition of education

In their efforts to promote industrial growth in North Carolina, local leaders recognized that the state’s strongest advantage was our educational tradition.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina State University, and Duke University were — and are — well-regarded educational institutions with excellent research capabilities. They are located uniquely near one another. Durham’s entrepreneurial tradition and Raleigh’s seat of government are close neighbors. Along with other colleges in the region and the growing ranks of community colleges across the state, these schools gave North Carolina a highly educated workforce.

“The major reason for companies coming to the Park has been the three universities. They have been a source of employees and consultants, as well as intellectual climate.”
— William F. Little, University of North Carolina

The question for business and government leaders in the 1950s was how to best leverage the proximity and potential of our top-notch colleges and universities to promote economic growth across the state.




Romeo Guest coins the phrase “research triangle”

Looking to market the region to industrial research operations, Raleigh business owner Romeo Guest was the first to use the phrase “research triangle” in 1954 to refer to the area between three major research universities in North Carolina.




An industrial research park

In 1955, Romeo Guest, Malcolm Campbell (Dean of the School of Textiles, N.C.S.U.), and William Newell (Director of the Textile Research Center, N.C.S.U.) took the idea for an industrial research park within this research triangle to Governor Luther Hodges.




“The heart and hope of North Carolina’s industrial future”

Governor Hodges called it a “marriage of North Carolina’s ideals for higher education and its hopes for material progress.” Although the state government was unable to support RTP financially, Governor Hodges became a powerful advocate.


He would later refer to RTP as the “heart and hope of North Carolina’s industrial future”



May 1955

Civic entrepreneurship

In May of 1955, Governor Hodges created the Research Triangle Development Council to push the idea for RTP forward. Robert Hanes (President of Wachovia Bank) was appointed Chairman, and other business and government leaders soon joined the committee.


An early move from government to civic entrepreneurship set a precedent for community-led economic development in North Carolina.

“Research Triangle Park is North Carolina’s finest example of successful civic entrepreneurship.”
— John L. Sanders, UNC Institute of Government




“What great thing can we do for North Carolina?”

The Research Triangle Development Council began working with local business leaders, university faculty, and state government representatives to guide RTP’s development. This group became the Research Triangle Committee Incorporated.

The Research Triangle Development Council’s work was motivated by a spirit of radical ideation and service to the state. Each meeting started with the same question: “What great thing can we do for North Carolina?”

On September 10, 1957 Governor Luther Hodges officially announced the creation of RTP.

It’s original goals were to:

  • attract industrial research facilities to North Carolina
  • Increase employment opportunities for North Carolinians
  • Increase the state’s per capita income




A generosity of spirit

Armed with bold purpose and united by common conviction, the Park’s founders set out to procure land and capital to make RTP a reality.

They created the Pinelands Company as an investment vehicle and enlisted Wachovia President Archie K. Davis to conduct a tour of the state, raising funds and spreading the message of RTP. He found that North Carolinians were hesitant to invest in the project for personal financial gain — but many were willing to make a contribution in the spirit of service to North Carolina.

Archie Davis helped raise $1.425 million in four months, including donations from citizens outside the Triangle who were committed to the future of their state.

One donation came from a truck driver Archie Davis met by chance. After striking up a conversation at a gas station, Davis gratefully accepted his $25 donation to the project. The driver told Davis that he never hoped to work in RTP, and he didn’t expect his children would — his contribution was to ensure his grandchildren could be educated and work in North Carolina.

“In North Carolina, there is a generosity of spirit and a generosity of mind — people work together for the common good of the state, as one can see from the history of the Research Triangle Park.”
— Archie K. Davis, Wachovia Bank President and RTP Champion

Ultimately, RTP attracted enough contributions to purchase nearly 7,000 acres of land stretched across Wake and Durham Counties. In time, this area would become home to hundreds of companies, tens of thousands of highly educated workers, and new ideas that are changing our world.




Ground-breaking research amidst scrub pine and opossums

Though RTP’s success was predicated on its university neighbors, academia was anxious about mixing business with education. Duke University Vice President Paul Gross was one of the first to suggest creating a non-profit research institute within the Park to help bridge the gap.

In 1956, this idea became the Research Triangle Institute, now RTI International. RTI proved that a research campus in the empty pine forests of North Carolina could lead an industry, first in statistics and later in science, health, energy, technology, public policy, and economic and social development.

It also provided a space for universities and business to collaborate in a common search for solutions to some of our world’s greatest problems.



Early 1960s

Slowing momentum

In retrospect, RTP’s success can seem almost
pre-ordained, but in the early 1960s nothing could have felt further from the truth. By 1964 the Park’s initial funding had all been invested and the Research Triangle Foundation could barely fulfill its financial obligations for land and personnel.

Partners like RTI, George Watts Hill, and Archie Davis offered unprecedented support to the fledgling RTP. They knew their commitment was no guarantee of success, but refused to back down from a mission that was vitally important to the future of North Carolina.




A turning point

1965 was a turning point for RTP. First the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences announced its plans to relocate in the Park, choosing North Carolina over 46 other states. This federal government investment validated RTP’s premise and RTI’s example that life-changing research could take place in North Carolina.

Shortly afterward, IBM concluded a seven year courtship by breaking ground on a 600,000 square foot, 400 acre research facility. The technology giant’s decision became a show of confidence to the business community and the first step in creating a leading technology cluster.



May 1965

Burning the mortgage

The IBM sale allowed the Research Triangle Foundation to pay off all of its debts. This picture shows the small staff burning the mortgage for the land they now owned outright. An executive secretary for RTF joked, “we had to send out for some black ink because we’d been operating in the red for so long.”




Growth and leadership

Over the next forty years, the Research Triangle Park became home to over 150 firms employing 39,000 people.

The Triangle is now home to leaders in 21st-century industries like biotechnology, clean energy, gaming and e-learning, information technology, nanotechnologies, and wireless telecommunications.

RTP has also contributed to economic growth across the state, encouraging companies to locate in communities around North Carolina.




TUCASI: strengthening ties between business and universities

By 1975 RTP had welcomed a number of organizations to its research facilities, including Burroughs Wellcome, the Park’s first pharmaceutical company, and the Environmental Protection Agency. RTF used its increasing momentum to strengthen its relationship with its first and most important partner: North Carolina’s universities.

With a 120 acre land donation, RTF built the Triangle Universities Center for Advanced Studies, Inc. — better known as TUCASI. TUCASI is now home to inter-university collaboration in research.

“The major reason for companies coming to the Park has been the three universities…As the Park grew, the universities needed an additional presence and TUCASI provided just that.”
— William F. Little, University of North Carolina




Gaining recognition as a great place to live, work, and play

Almost 5 decades after RTP was built, North Carolina’s Research Triangle Region has become one of the nation’s leading metropolitan areas.

In addition to gaining recognition as one of the most educated regions in the country, we’ve been recognized as one of the best metro areas for business and careers, young professionals, and overall health and happiness.




Putting North Carolina on the map

RTP has also served as a beacon for North Carolina to global business and government leaders. One CEO told a group of Japanese businessmen his plans to move his operations to North Carolina, and was startled at their response: “Yes, we know North Carolina. That’s the Research Triangle Park.”

“The flowering of the Triangle has certainly changed the course of the state’s development in the latter half of the twentieth century and put North Carolina firmly onto the global community of major research centers.”
— William “Bill” Friday, President of the UNC System

Today RTF’s official mission derives from its 50-year-old commitment to the state:
developing the Park to increase access to education and access to jobs for North Carolina, helping our citizens improve their quality of life.




Changing context

In 2007 RTP celebrated its 50th birthday, and state leaders took the opportunity to reflect on the Park’s strategy for growth in a changing world.

An IBM study commissioned by the Research Triangle Foundation recommends that the Park strengthen its ties between companies, government, and academia to remain competitive, particularly in emerging industries.

A study from the Urban Land Institute suggested physically redeveloping the park to meet today’s demand for coffee shops, collaboration, and community.

Originally created to suit the isolated, suburban development of the 1950s, the Park faces a structural challenge in today’s era of urbanization and connectivity.



December 2011

A Transformative Vision for the Future: RTP’s Master Plan

In response to changes in today’s business environment, RTF worked with a prominent architecture and urban design firm to create a new Master Plan to redevelop RTP.

The Master Plan will maximize efficiency, mobility, and synergy among the region’s universities, businesses, and governments. It will also encompass the Research Triangle Foundation’s commitments to environmentally sustainable development while incorporating new land uses, zoning, and other infrastructure.

RTF will launch the Master Plan at an event on November 9, 2012. Watch live streaming from the event.



November 2011

New leadership for a new vision

In November 2011 the RTF Board of Directors named Bob Geolas its new President and CEO. Bob immediately began to discuss the Foundation’s vision for the next 50 years.

The vision rests on four pillars:

  1. RTP should be highly collaborative – a place that brings people together in dense, urban centers with amenities and services.
  2. RTP should be authentic to North Carolina –  representing modern design and quality work and living spaces.
  3. RTP should be inspiring – representing the excitement of the future in science, technology, arts, and humanities.
  4. RTP should be accessible – affordable for new technology companies and those looking to grow and expand.



June 2012

Re-zoning gives room to grow

In June 2012 the North Carolina General Assembly approved zoning changes to RTP, giving the Park permission to move forward with the redevelopment laid out in the Master Plan.

The new zoning regulations will allow for different kinds of building in RTP, including residential areas, commercial property, and education facilities. In other words, we’re creating a place with the coffee shops, community, and collaboration suited to today’s workers and companies.



November 2012 (beginning)

Reconnecting with North Carolina

To launch this new phase in the Park’s development in service of North Carolina, RTF is taking the Park on the road.

We’re calling our journey the Pathways to Opportunity Tour, where we’ll ReConnect with communities across our state.

We’ll work together to ReImagine the future of the Park and of the state.

And we’ll collect the big ideas that will help ReDevelop the Park to better serve all of North Carolina.



Mid-November 2012

What great thing can we do for North Carolina?

The Pathways to Opportunity Tour is an opportunity for RTP to travel throughout the state and see what has changed.

We have to understand what today’s North Carolinians value, and witness the great things they’re doing for our state. We must listen to their ideas and, most importantly, deeply understand how we can help them become even more successful in their own communities.


On the tour, and on this site, we’re posing the same question the Park’s founders asked: What great thing can we do for North Carolina?




Albert N. Link, A Generosity of Spirit, and From Seed to Harvest
William M. Rohe, The Research Triangle: From Tobacco Road to Global Prominence