Watching the innovation economy take hold
My family has lived in North Carolina for 300 years, and over the last 2 decades, I’ve watched our state take off.
My ancestors arrived in North Carolina in the early 1700s.
They toiled in the fields and carved out a decent life for a number of generations. My parents were the first in their families to attend a university. After graduating, they did not view North Carolina as a land of opportunity. When they got the chance, they moved to the Washington, DC area.
Their success provided me ample opportunity to pursue my dreams. I attended two Ivy League institutions and a graduate school on the West Coast. While in law school, I was fortunate to have offers from firms in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York City. I thought long and hard about where to settle. I wanted to find a dynamic area that was open to new ideas and would help define the next era of American prosperity.
This was the early 1990s. “Raleigh-Durham” was receiving national attention on a number of “best places” lists. I began to contemplate something outside the box – returning to my home state. In my mind, Research Triangle Park represented dynamism, education, technology and openness to new ideas. After visiting Raleigh several times with my wife, we made the decision to take a leap of faith and move back to the South.
While we appreciated many aspects of the area, we missed the restaurants, museums and creativity offered in more urban settings. It took several years to adjust. During those early years, I discovered a love of architecture, building, transportation, planning and all things local I saw the impact local leaders had on people’s lives. One of the highlights for me was helping Charles Meeker win as mayor in 2001 by less than 1000 votes.
It is difficult for newcomers to appreciate how far Downtown Raleigh and the region has come since the 1990s.
The Museum of Art, Museum of Natural Science and Marbles Children’s Museum came to life and are world class institutions. Most recently, the artistic community has blossomed on Martin Street and the warehouse district. Entrepreneurs congregate in trendy restaurants in and around America Tobacco in Durham. The creativity and dynamism of these young people is palpable.
This region has exceeded my expectations. I credit leaders who took great risks many years ago to forge partnerships among business, government and universities to create a space for the next economy. Their foresight led to the explosion of growth throughout the region. Leaders took advantage of that growth to revitalize our urban cores. Now we are seeing the innovation economy take hold among a new generation of residents.
I cannot wait to see what the next 25 years brings.
Mack Paul is a founding partner at Morningstar Law Group, where he specializes in zoning, land use, environmental permitting, and public policy. Mack is also experienced in North Carolina’s political landscape. As Chairman of the Wake County Democratic Party and former campaign manager to Governor Jim Hunt in Wake County, Mack focused his political efforts on fundraising, building coalitions in business and grass roots communities, and advising on transportation and urban issues.