Category Archives: Triangle Area Economy

The Triangle is going to grow — a lot. Embrace it.

More than half of us now live in cities with urban areas accounting for 80 percent of global GDP, according to a recent report by the United Nations. Seventy percent of the world’s population is expected to live in cities by 2050, putting huge strains on our current infrastructure — with potential to exacerbate environmental, transportation, health, crime, and inequity challenges.

Here in North Carolina, the Raleigh metro area is expected to grow 72 percent in the next 25 years from 1.27 million residents to 2.2 million, making it the third-fastest growing metro in the country (behind Austin, Texas and Fort Myers, Florida) according to a study by American City Business Journals. The Durham-Chapel Hill metro is expected to expand 36 percent (from 552,000 residents to 753,000).

For many, these are alarming statistics, and, without proper planning, our collective quality of life will be significantly compromised. But with foresight and continuous innovation, there may be opportunities to increase living standards for all.

One potential pathway is to embrace scale rather than reject it. Research by Geoffrey West and Luis Bettencourt, for example, shows that cities produce more units of output for each unit of input. In other words, a dollar spent on investment produces more than a dollar back on key economic indicators like GDP, wages, and patent creation.

Cities are also much more efficient, with residents using less energy per capita and needing fewer capital investments like roads, electric lines, etc. West and Bettencourt make clear, however, that these benefits will only be gained through innovation versus maintaining the status quo.

This is particularly true of our most vulnerable communities. Without break-through ideas focused on balancing economic growth with economic inclusion, we risk widening racial wealth gaps and accelerating gentrification and displacement.

A recent study by economists Berkes and Gaetani finds that clustering of high-tech innovation in cities has increased economic segregation — a trend that Richard Florida delves into in his new book The New Urban Crisis.

But what if innovation can improve equity? The company Kasita, for example, has created inexpensive micro-housing units that are stand-alone or can stack to form apartments. Matched with proper zoning, the right financing opportunities (including helping families and individuals establish stronger credit), and creative urban planning, housing solutions like Kasita could increase opportunities for home ownership.

The reduced cost of solar energy and innovative approaches to storing and distributing energy also provide an exciting opportunity to increase access to renewable energy, create jobs, boost local ownership opportunities (through employee owned co-ops), and cut the cost of energy.

To date, the sharing economy (examples include Lyft and AirBnB) have principally benefitedthe wealthy. But there is huge upside to be gained by expanding the shared economy into lower-income communities, including jobs with flexible hours, supplemental income opportunities, and more direct, less expensive transportation options in currently under-connected communities. Recognizing this, Los Angeles introduced a pilot program to put 100 car-share vehicles in low-income communities, and Minneapolis is subsidizing bike-share memberships and driving outreach efforts in poor neighborhoods.

In San Diego, a recent upgrade to 14,000 smart street lights is expected to save $2.4 million per year. It has also spurred the deployment of over 3,000 additional sensor nodes that can support a range of applications, including air quality sensing and gunshot detection – increasing quality of life and public safety across the city.

And cities globally are investing in urban farming strategies to create jobs, increase access to healthy food, and serve as learning laboratories.

These are all promising trends. As the United Nation’s New Urban Agenda makes clear: to thrive as a society we need to create sustainable communities for all.

BY CHRISTOPHER GERGEN AND STEPHEN MILLER, News & Observer

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As the Triangle drifts, a growth tsunami looms

Wake Up Wake County, the advocacy group that promotes careful development in one of the nation’s fastest growing counties, held a seminar last week at WakeMed. It took place in the hospital’s conference center, but maybe it should have been in the Emergency Room. When it comes to growth, the Triangle is in serious condition.

Advocates and county and municipal officials turned out for the seminar titled: “Our future: Growing smart with housing and transit.” The keynote speaker was Chris Zimmerman, an economist and former Arlington County, Va., elected official who is now with the organization Smart Growth America.

Between the slides and hopeful talk of well-designed growth, it was hard to stifle a sense of gloom. Transit boosters, local officials and planners are trying to get ready for the people to come, but the truth is Wake County and the Triangle aren’t ready and may never be.

Wake County alone is projected to add more than 200,000 people in the next 10 years. The Triangle’s overall growth could double that. One doesn’t need to be a sentimentalist clinging to the disappearing, small-city Triangle to look ahead and think, “uh-oh.”

67 people a day

We are already familiar with the oft-repeated statistic that Wake County is growing by 67 people a day. Now the greater Raleigh area has made the cut for the top 20 places where Amazon wants to build its second headquarters. If we win, it will bring growth of truly Amazonian proportions – 50,000 jobs and probably the same number of cars. The jobs will pay well, but also will drive up rents and home prices.

Most experts think the Triangle won’t win the bid because we are still too small and lack a mass-transit system. But Bloomberg News reported last week that North Carolina is in the running for another giant headquarters: Apple. If Apple builds its fourth headquarters in North Carolina, it may well come to the Triangle.

Growth isn’t a bad thing in itself. I was a newcomer once, arriving here in 1991. Wake County has grown by a half million people since then. I’ve seen the changes, most of them good – better stores, restaurants, entertainment and culture.

But now the national economy is soaring and growth here is accelerating faster than it can be accommodated. Wake County and the Triangle are attracting both aspiring millennials and retiring boomers. In between are young families with children adding to a Wake County school system that is growing by more than 2,000 students annually.

Signs of trouble

In the face of this growth there are signs of trouble. The Triangle has failed to create a regional government that can coordinate growth. The Raleigh City Council is at Ground Zero of the boom, but can’t manage to approve such obvious steps as allowing smaller backyard dwellings to increase housing density. And the state is going ahead with plans to complete the 540 Loop in southern Wake County. That 28-mile, $2.2 billion highway extension will fuel sprawl even as the Republican-led General Assembly is sharply limiting its support for light rail.

Zimmerman said growth can’t be stopped, but it can be managed. He said that requires that local officials think far ahead, innovate and move fast. Once the surge is on top of you – when traffic is gridlocked and affordable housing is available only on the far outskirts of a city – it’s too late.

In North Carolina, local responses to growth are limited by state law that gives the legislature final say over such tools as impact fees and affordable housing requirements. Zimmerman said Virginia’s cities face the same restraints, but Arlington worked around them by offering developers more of what they wanted in return for more of what the city needed. Arlington was also able to control growth by concentrating new offices and mid-rise housing around Metro rail stops. Wake County lacks a light rail system, but could concentrate new development around a coming network of rapid transit bus lines.

Transit is a key to smart development, Zimmerman said, but what people young and old want most are “things closer together.” They want to walk, whether from home to work, or restaurant to theater.

“What it really comes down to,” he said, “is walkability.”

What it needs to begin with, on the part of government and residents alike, is urgency and flexibility.

By: NED BARNETT, News & Observer

Raleigh was ranked the best city in the state to start a business due to its labor market.

Entrepreneurs and business owners need look no further than the Tar Heel state to set up shop — North Carolina came out on top in a new study of the best states to start a business.

The study, conducted by Fit Small Business, cited the state’s labor market and taxes as driving an ideal environment for business owners. Fit Small Business, out of New York City, says it provides research to help small business owners make wiser decisions.

The researchers used data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Kauffman Foundation and the Small Business Administration to rank states on seven categories — access to capital, startup activity, taxes, cost-of-living, labor market, quality of life and cost of starting a business.

The study took corporate, individual income, unemployment insurance, property and sales taxes into account, ranking North Carolina 11th nationally for tax rates. At 3 percent, North Carolina’s corporate tax rate is the lowest of any state levying a corporate tax, according to the Tax Foundation, and is set to be reduced to 2.5 percent beginning in 2019 after to the North Carolina General Assembly’s latest budget.

Raleigh’s educated population and its high-quality research facilities earned it the top spot among cities statewide for starting a business. More than 40 percent of Raleigh’s population over 25 held at least a four-year degree, compared to just over one-third of Americans nationally.

The state’s startup activity also ranked highly — a category that took the rate of entrepreneurs and the survivability of business into account.

But those looking for venture capital investments and small business loans may turn their attention elsewhere. The state was ranked 34th in “access to capital.”

The cost of starting a business, based on per capita income and median commercial rent per square foot per year, fared worse for North Carolina than a majority of states as well. Data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis reveals North Carolina’s 2016 per capita income of $42,002 lags behind the national average of $49,571.

In addition to North Carolina, Utah, Texas, Indiana and Montana rounded out the top five states for starting a business.

by:, triangle business journal