On his visit Monday to Cree’s Durham manufacturing plant President Obama brought his advisors from the Council on Jobs and Competitiveness along to impress on North Carolinians that his administration is focused on lowering the stubbornly high U.S. unemployment rate, which in May was 9.1 percent.
Jobs council members, which come from the business sector, labor and universities, are dedicating their time and energy to one singular task, Obama told Cree workers. “How do we create more jobs in America?”
Not far from where Obama was talking about getting out of the Great Recession, a job creation effort was under way to lower the state unemployment rate, which in April was 9.7 percent, and particularly the unemployment rate in the Research Triangle, which in April was at 7 percent in the Durham-Chapel Hill area and at 7.7 percent in the Raleigh-Cary area.
NCSU, Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have long been engines of economic development in the region. They drove the formation of Research Triangle Park in the 1950s and educated the work force that attracted corporate research and development operations to RTP in the following three decades. The three universities that anchor RTP have also brought about technologies that started many an R&D company in the area.
Cree itself is a NCSU spinoff. The RTP company that makes light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, was formed in 1987 based on technology developed at NCSU.
With budget cuts for higher education looming, Triangle universities are stepping up and retooling their economic development efforts.
At NCSU, Terri Lomax, vice chancellor for research and innovation, is taking on responsibilities starting July 1 to help the state recruit companies and jobs, and the university is trying to boost the formation of spinoffs and their chances to survive and expand, be acquired or go public.
William Woodson, who was named NCSU chancellor in January 2010, established an innovation fund that will provide $2.5 million over the next five years to NCSU researchers to work on technologies that could be licensed or spun out as a company. To get off the ground, the young companies could tap into expertise at the university through a so-called proof-of-concept center on NCSU’s Centennial Campus.
To further accelerate startup formation, NCSU has joined forces with UNC, Duke, the Council for Entrepreneurial Development and N.C. Central University. The consortium is getting involved in the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Center, which has $3.6 million available over three years to evaluate technologies and tutor new companies.
“Most new jobs come from companies less than five years old,” Lomax said in an interview with Science in the Triangle. “We want to do everything we can to help these companies be successful. Especially after a recession that’s extremely important.”
She suggested that the efforts could double the number of successful startups that NCSU spins out per year to 10 to 12 by 2015.
“What we want is sustained economic development,” Lomax said.
Watch the entire Science in the Triangle interview with Terri Lomax here: