Location:
EDUCATION - HIGHER; SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY;

OLR Research Report


September 16, 2009

 

2009-R-0330

NORTH CAROLINA'S RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK AND THE HISTORY OF THE CONNECTICUT TECHNOLOGY PARK

By: Rute Pinho, Research Analyst II

You asked for information on North Carolina's Research Triangle Park. You also wanted to know the result of UConn's efforts to build a research park.

SUMMARY

Developed in the late 1950s, Research Triangle Park (RTP) is the oldest continuously operating research and science park in the U.S. It covers 7,000 acres in the Raleigh-Durham region between three of the state's prominent research universities. North Carolina government, university, and business leaders saw the research park as a way of diversifying the state's economic base. RTP is currently home to approximately 170 companies that employ over 40,000 full-time employees and an estimated 10,000 contract employees. The three universities also share a campus in the park that houses the National Humanities Center and several joint research facilities and thinktanks.

Connecticut officials first discussed plans for a technology park at UConn in the early 1980s. In 1982, Governor O'Neill and Dr. John A DiBiaggio, president of UConn, formed a nonprofit corporation to manage the development of several hundred acres of land north of the Storrs campus for use as a research park. The project faced a number of delays and setbacks, including a lawsuit by the private developer hired to build the research park and delays in local approvals for the completion of a road that would provide access to the park.

Despite these setbacks, UConn continues to explore the idea of building a research and technology park. It completed a feasibility study in 2008 and has funding in place to complete the related road and utilities project left unfinished during the 1990s. The university expects to have the necessary permits and environmental impact statements for the road project completed in the first quarter of 2010.

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK

RTP is a 7,000 acre research and science park located between three of the Raleigh-Durham region's research universities – the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University, and North Carolina State University. It is currently home to approximately 170 companies that employ over 40,000 full-time employees and an estimated 10,000 contract employees. It is the oldest continuously operating research and science park in the U.S.

RTP's Formation

The idea for RTP stemmed from North Carolina government, university, and business leaders in the mid 1950s who saw the research park as a way of diversifying the state's economic base. The vision was to attract research companies from around the nation to the area around the state's research universities. Early on, organizers decided that the project should be a private effort, with the engagement of the universities, rather than a state-sponsored effort. The RTP development committee raised private funds to acquire the first parcels of land for the park and later formed a nonprofit foundation to develop and manage the park (Research Triangle Park: Evolution and Renaissance, June 2006).

RTP's Growth

RTP's growth took off in 1965 after IBM and the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare's National Environmental Health Science Center announced plans to locate respective facilities in the park. By 1974, RTP had earned enough money to cover its development costs. Since 1965, the park has averaged six new companies and 1,800 employees per year. RTP reached a peak employment level of 45,000 in 2001 (Research Triangle Park: Evolution and Renaissance, June 2006).

University Involvement

In the mid-1970s, the three universities began planning for a joint campus in the park. They formed the Triangle Universities Center for Advanced Students, Inc. (TUCASI) to identify and pursue activities that might be placed on the joint campus. In 1976, TUCASI won a national competition for the National Humanities Center as the first tenant to locate on its campus. TUCASI went on to develop additional research facilities and thinktanks on the site, including the Microelectronics Center of North Carolina, the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, and the National Institute for Statistical Sciences (Triangle Universities Center for Advanced Studies, Inc: A Brief History).

Success Factors

A 2006 report completed by the Research Triangle Foundation of North Carolina identified four factors critical to RTP's success.

Timing. The idea for the park came at a time when government and business leaders were placing an increased importance on the role of research and development and technology. Companies were drawn to the idea of being in close proximity to three strong research universities.

Connection to Universities. The three prominent research universities, in addition to other universities, colleges, and community colleges in the region, provide a steady supply of trained scientists, engineers, and technicians to the region. The universities also attract high levels of federal funding, which strengthens the region's research capacity.

Critical Mass. The critical mass of companies and workers in the area provides the region with a broad and deep labor pool. It enables RTP to attract more high-quality employers and companies. And it provides an environment that fosters collaboration and entrepreneurship among researchers, knowledge workers, and university professors. This, in turn, creates more innovation and potential for further economic growth.

Long-Term Commitment. RTP's founders recognized that it could take decades to see the benefits of their investment. Its leadership, local elected officials, and area residents share this long-term vision for the park.

CONNECTICUT TECHNOLOGY PARK

Initial Proposal

State officials first discussed plans for a technology park at UConn in the early 1980s. In July 1982, Governor O'Neill and Dr. John A DiBiaggio, president of UConn, announced the formation of a nonprofit corporation to manage the development of private research buildings, conference centers, housing, and other related facilities for the university using private investment. The University of Connecticut Educational Properties, Incorporated (UCEPI) would first explore developing an area of several hundred acres north of the Storrs campus for use as a research park. It was charged with searching for and contracting with a private developer to build a high technology research park with a hotel and conference center, office, and residential facilities (“Governor O'Neill and University of Connecticut President DiBiaggio Announce Creation of Development Corporation for University Properties,” July 23, 1982). In 1985, the legislature authorized UConn to lease the north campus property to UCEPI for one dollar (SA 85-108 ).

UCEPI and ConnTech Development

In the mid 1980s, UCEPI entered into an agreement with a private developer, ConnTech Development Company of Cleveland, to build the research park. The $120 million project, named the Connecticut Technology Park, was to contain 1 million square feet of research facilities, rental housing, and a conference center and be built over 10 years on 400 acres. ConnTech would share rent revenue with UCEPI and tenants would share research and product development profits with the university on an individual contract basis. The project also called for a new mile-long road bisecting the park from Route 44 to North Eagleville Road; the state would pay half of the road's $4 million cost (“UConn Building Research Park in Storrs,” New York Times, March 22, 1987).

UCEPI fired ConnTech in 1990, contending that it had failed to line up financing and government approval for the project and complete the road into the site. ConnTech sued in federal court seeking $73 million in damages from UCEPI. A three-member arbitration panel found that UCEPI had breached its agreement and awarded ConnTech $3.1 million (“Research Park at UConn: Nearly Mission Impossible,” Hartford Courant, January 15, 1996).

Mansfield Planning and Zoning and Inlands Wetlands Commissions

UCEPI continued to pursue the research park project despite the ConnTech setback. In 1992 and 1993, UCEPI secured $20.4 million in federal and state money to build the first technology building, a 90,000 square foot building to house two of UConn's high-tech centers.

UCEPI sought approval from town officials to begin construction before the state Department of Environmental Protection granted a wetlands permit to allow the state to finish the second half of the road. In December 1995, the town's inland wetlands agency approved the request, but the same group of people convened as the planning and zoning commission denied it (“Technology Park Stalled After Hitting a Snag,” December 6, 1995). The commission approved the request in March 2006.

Loss of State Funding

The Department of Economic and Community Development withheld the second half of the project's operating subsidy for FY 96, which according to Hartford Courant accounts, was due in part to the project's delays and the lukewarm support of UConn President Harry Hartley. The legislature also reduced UCEPI's operating subsidy for FY 97, citing numerous setbacks in the completion of the park, including legal and zoning problems. The funding reduction prompted UCEPI's board to lay off its only two staff members as of September 1, 1996 (“Funding Cut Means Dead End for Research Park at UConn,” July 27, 1996). The legislature eliminated UCEPI's remaining operating subsidy for FYs 98 – 99.

Recent Efforts to Build a Research and Technology Park

Despite the setbacks in the 1980s and 90s with the Connecticut Technology Park, UConn continues to explore the idea of building a research and technology park. According to Rita Zangari, executive director of UConn's Technology Incubation Program, UConn is better poised for a research park today than it was in the 1980s due to the significant increase in the university's research expenditures and resources since the UConn 2000 capital improvement program. Zangari stressed that the “critical mass of research dollars” makes this type of project feasible.

Recently, the university contracted with a consulting firm to complete a feasibility study for a research and technology park. The May 2008 report outlines the steps and considerations the university would have to take to carry out such a project. Zangari noted that the next step is completing the North Hillside Road and utilities extension, which will permit the university to proceed with its plans for further development in the area north of the main campus. The university expects to have the necessary permits and environmental impact statements completed in the first quarter of 2010.

Phase III of the UConn 2000 capital improvement program includes $11.5 million for the road project. Upon completion, the road will extend Hillside Road by 5,300 linear feet to Route 44 and provide for the extension of related utilities. The UConn 2000 funds are in addition to $6.1 million in federal funds available for the project. (UConn 2000 Progress Report #27, October 2008)

HYPERLINKS

Research Triangle Park, http://www.rtp.org/main/, last visited September 15, 2009.

Research Triangle Foundation of North Carolina's Research Triangle Park: Evolution and Renaissance, http://www.rtp.org/files/Fact%20Sheets/rtp_history.pdf, last visited September 15, 2009.

Feasibility Study for a Research and Technology Park at the University of Connecticut, http://otc.uconn.edu/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/1026-uconn-research-park-final-report.pdf, last visited September 15, 2009.

University of Connecticut's UConn 2000: October 2008 Report,

http://www.uc2000.uconn.edu/reports/report27/report27.pdf, last visited September 15, 2009.

RP:df