Search any list of the top science and technology regions in the country and you’re sure to find North Carolina’s Research Triangle at or near the top. The Triangle leads the nation in the growth of high-tech jobs and is recognized by Forbes as one of the top five technology hot spots in America.
Drill down and you’ll find that the hottest spot on the region’s technology landscape is an industry segment called cleantech that’s focused on developing sustainable solutions to the world’s energy needs. The region’s cleantech industry is big, encompassing nearly 200 firms – including 16 Fortune 500 companies – across 13 counties.
Lee Anne Nance, executive director of the Research Triangle Regional Partnership, spearheads a collaborative network called the Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster that promotes the region’s competitive edge in the global marketplace by building on local strengths and nurturing new areas of innovation. Its members include some of the industry’s biggest players, including Duke Energy, Siemens, ABB Inc. and Schneider Electric, as well as major high-tech companies such as SAS, Cisco, Power Analytics, Sensus, Power Secure, RTI International, and Field2Base.
Combined, they pack a powerful punch, employing thousands of high-skill workers and driving innovation in energy management, water, transportation, data analytics, information technology, renewable energy, electronics and engineering. Many are members of the FREEDM Systems Center at NC State University.
“This is a disruptive and transformational time in infrastructure delivery throughout the world and our region is leading the way,” Nance says. “We’re right in the middle of the action and that’s good for the economy, the people who work here and the people who live here.”
Although the cleantech sector in North Carolina is young, it has experienced explosive growth in the past few years, emerging as a global leader in the field.
“This region is well positioned for the future because of our community colleges and universities,” Nance says. “We bring in more than $2 billion in research funding every year through our research universities and other organizations.”
Wade Fulghum, who helped launch the Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster, leads venture development efforts within NC State’s Office of Technology Transfer. He sees firsthand how the region’s commitment to higher education pays off in the marketplace.
“There are many opportunities for collaboration between members of the Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster and NC State, including sponsored research and project partnerships,” he says.
Sponsored research gives companies the opportunity to work with university experts and solve specific technical problems. And it frequently results in the creation of valuable intellectual property, such as products or patents, that can be leveraged by companies for a competitive advantage.