Smaller Cities Becoming Hotbeds for High-Tech Growth
By utilizing the strengths of existing business as well as government and academia, smaller cities are becoming hotbeds for the biotech, IT, renewable energy technologies, aerospace/defense, digital media, and a host of other high-tech endeavors.
Monique Wassenaar Silverio (November 2010)
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Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina
The Raleigh-Durham region, with a population of nearly three million, is referred to as the "Triangle." It is a hotbed of technological activity anchored by North Carolina State University, Duke University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the cities of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill.
According to Lloyd Yates, president and CEO of Progress Energy Carolinas, "The combination of talented people, an amazing quality of life, and a cooperative spirit between industry, government, and academia makes Raleigh an outstanding location for business. Progress Energy started in Raleigh more than 100 years ago, and we believe the best is yet to come."
The "Triangle" name was cemented in the public consciousness in 1959 with the creation of Research Triangle Park (RTP). One of the oldest and largest science parks in North America, RTP is a globally prominent, high-tech R&D center that serves as an economic driver for the region.
More than 170 companies employing more than 42,000 full-time workers and an estimated 10,000 contract employees call the 7,000-acre RTP home. These companies have generated a combined capital investment of more than $2 billion in the region. The RTP has more than 22 million square feet of laboratory, office, and high-tech manufacturing space.
RTP is home to a broad spectrum of organizations, from Fortune 100 multinational R&D operations to university spin-offs and start-up operations. The companies are clustered in several industry sectors, including information/communications technology, biotechnology and life sciences, and environmental sciences. In addition, a number of U.S. federal agencies have a presence in the park.
The Research Triangle region also has one of the largest concentrations of college graduates and post-graduate degree holders in the United States. Within the region, the three flagship universities totaled $1.6 billion in R&D expenditures in 2007. Currently, there are 117,323 students enrolled in 10 Research Triangle universities and colleges. North Carolina also is home to five other top-ranked research universities.
San Antonio, Texas
Another technological bright light in the Lone Star State - particularly in cyber security - is San Antonio. With a population of some 1.3 million, San Antonio has the second-largest concentration of cyber security professionals in the nation, second only to Washington, D.C.
Numerous cyber security companies have been formed in San Antonio by people retiring from the U.S. Air Force and taking that expertise into the business world. This talent, as well as a strong local infrastructure and academic programs, all played a role in the U.S. Air Force's decision to locate its new Cyber Command, the 24th Air Force, in San Antonio. The city also has a large and growing National Security Agency presence, as well as the Institute for Cyber Security at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
"The critical mass of security talent in San Antonio has helped drive the growth of our company," said John Dickson, a principal in San Antonio-based Denim Group. Established in 2001, the group develops secure software for clients worldwide. He adds, "The universities and government contractors supporting military missions here, and other private-sector companies, provide the technology community in San Antonio with a strong pipeline of experts in cyber security, software development, and other highly technical skills."
To further promote collaboration among academic, business, and government entities involved in cyber security, the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce created the San Antonio Cyber Action Plan. This group is run by the chamber's IT Committee, which is helping to find additional funding from the state and federal governments for programs at local colleges and universities. In terms of education, San Antonio has some 17 colleges and universities, including the University of Texas at San Antonio's Health Science Center and Texas A&M University-San Antonio.
It should also be noted that San Antonio's IT industry has grown 20 percent since 2005, and has doubled in size over the past decade. In 2008, the sector paid $882 million in wages and salaries to 15,648 IT employees and had an economic impact of $8 billion.
Wrapping It Up
As smaller tech cities boom, major U.S. cities can no longer claim to be the sun around which the high-tech world revolves. These smaller cities are finding their technological niche, and carving their way into the high-tech universe.
And with the proper infrastructure in place to support the expansion of these tech firms, and strong partnerships between business, government, and academia, there's no limit to the reach that these smaller cities can have in marking their technological futures.