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Wake Forest boosts the attractiveness of the Research Triangle in the field of life sciences

This article was written for our sponsor, the Wake Forest Commercial and Industrial Partnership.

In the wake of its recent impressive streak of high-profile life science wins, the Research Triangle region faces an unusual challenge: a dwindling inventory of ready-to-serve industrial properties. the needs of today’s biotechnology companies. But a unique partnership between the Wake Forest Business & Industry Partnership (WFBIP) and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary adds an attractive entry into the mix.

Since 2018, the collaboration between the two has centered on an amenity-rich technology park off Stadium Drive near U.S. Highway 1. WFBIP, which leads economic development on behalf of the city of more than 50,000 people , is spearheading efforts to secure the property, assess its potential and bring it to market. The Seminary owns the vast majority of the 191-acre property and would like it to become an economic engine for the community.

According to Ted Abernathy, a Raleigh-based economic development consultant, efforts to position the site as a life sciences destination send a powerful signal to the industrial real estate world, site selection consultants and the tech industry itself.

“All of this work, along with the close partnership the city has built with the Seminary, is a very strong statement, ‘We are primed for growth in technology,'” said Abernathy, managing partner at Economic Development. Leadership LLC.

On the face of it, the case is strong: Wake Forest is currently the 8th fastest growing municipality in North Carolina. Its young population is well-educated, with almost 55% holding a bachelor’s degree or higher, more than 21% more than the United States as a whole.

But the Abernathy-based firm has dug even deeper, recently conducting an analysis of the city’s strengths and prospects for attracting major technology or life sciences operations.

“What stands out from a technology perspective are two things that will impact Wake Forest,” said Abernathy, whose work with communities across the country often spots opportunities among oceans of numbers. As a technology region, the Research Triangle is now among the top destinations in the United States, he says. “And it’s expansive and expanding from core areas like RTP, Cary and downtown Raleigh all over the region.”

Already, communities such as Clayton, Holly Springs and Sanford have attracted leading global life science operations. “Wake Forest is likely part of a next wave to attract tech workers and companies,” Abernathy said.

Abernathy’s 35-year career began with roles as a local economic development practitioner in Baltimore and Durham. Prior to launching Economic Leadership in 2013, he established a formidable reputation as a thought leader with the Southern Growth Policies Board and the Research Triangle Regional Partnership. He believes the pieces are now in place for Wake Forest to claim a more generous slice of the Research Triangle’s tech pie.

“The biggest driver of technology these days is tech talent,” he continued. “It’s in short supply everywhere.” This is where Abernathy’s recent labor pool analysis provides encouraging evidence of Wake Forest’s positioning. “If you look at commuting patterns, there are a lot of people who can come to Wake Forest and employ businesses there. You’re not just selling the people who live in downtown Wake Forest, but you’re looking at the entire job market.

The accessibility of the city does not only apply to available workers. It also provides easy access to area universities, RDU airport, research organizations and other business assets. The site itself, known as Wake Forest Business & Technology Park, has already undertaken a battery of surveys and studies to assess its development readiness. It’s been certified by the North Carolina Department of Commerce, for example, and earlier this year it was approved by ElectriCities of North Carolina as a “smart site.”

The Smart Sites program collects and organizes geotechnical, pricing, archaeological, environmental and other data on industrial properties. The goal: reduce risk and shorten start-up time for new employers. ElectriCities, the city’s utility partner, hires top engineering firms and economic development consultants from across the state to do the comprehensive work.

About 40% of economic development projects specifically request a certified site, according to recent data from the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC).

“What we know is that when consultants, brokers and industrial developers look at a site, the first types of questions are about things like wetlands, soil conditions and infrastructure,” Carl said. Rees, economic and community development manager at ElectriCities.

Rees’ Raleigh-based organization awards smart site status to about four properties a year in the state, at a cost of $25,000 to $40,000 each. The resulting site then enjoys increased credibility as a localization option. The companies that arrive know that they will have no bad surprises after the announcement of the plans and the start of the work.

“It’s a testament to the site’s stability and readiness for development when you’re able to share tons of data about the site and its viability with location consultants and the real estate community,” Rees said.

The Wake Forest Life Sciences Technology Park is located off Capital Boulevard on woods that have belonged to the seminary since 1950. This was when Wake Forest College (now Wake Forest University) sold its local real estate , including what is now the 25-acre campus in the heart of downtown, at the Baptist State Convention before completing its move to Winston-Salem in 1956. The sale price of $1.6 million dollars equals $19.2 million in 2022 dollars.

“At that time, it was unclear what the land would be used for,” said Ryan Hutchinson, executive vice president of operations at the Seminary. “But since then development has come to Wake Forest and it’s possible that land could be moved from a non-working asset to a working asset.”

Illustration – Possible layout of the site

The Seminary previously sold some of its real estate for commercial development, including land adjacent to Tech Park which is now the Wake Forest Crossings shopping center. According to Hutchinson, proceeds from any future sales of the current acreage would go into the Seminary’s $40 million endowment.

While the undeveloped area of ​​the Seminary could more easily be marketed as residential or commercial property, the school management is instead interested in obtaining the more strategic economic impact that industrial development would bring.

“All tides come in together,” said Hutchinson, who leads the Seminar’s partnership with WFBIP. “If we can contribute to a vibrant city and community, that helps us with the students, faculty and staff we can attract here. »

WFBIP President Jason Cannon said the Seminar’s partnership with the city helps Wake Forest stand out from other destinations in the Triangle.

“The Seminary’s presence in Wake Forest is so ingrained in the economic and social life of our community that it’s hard to describe how central its role is here,” he said. Cannon believes WFBIP’s network of partners — the Seminary, the City, ElectriCities and others — is proof enough of its potential as a hub for high-paying jobs. “We’ve worked hard to bring the right players to the table and make sure all the necessary components are in place for exciting things to happen here,” Cannon said.

And now may be the perfect time. Data from Wake County Economic Development, a program of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, indicates continued interest from leaders in technology and life sciences. As of March 31, there were 13 active life science projects including Wake County, five active I/T projects and three in clean technology.

“We want to provide opportunities for all of our municipalities and support product development in all communities in Wake County,” said Adrienne Cole, President and CEO of the Greater Raleigh Chamber. “There are major opportunities for life sciences in Wake County right now.”

WFBIP’s Cannon has a close professional relationship with Cole and also has the Raleigh Chamber on its list of key partners.

“Success in economic development is having partners who are willing to fight for you – and we certainly have that,” Cannon said. He’s also encouraged by what Abernathy’s analysis says about the city’s potential. “Ted’s data points to a future for Wake Forest that involves not only good, high-wage jobs, but a destination increasingly equipped with the assets that today’s high-growth industries seek,” it adds. -he. “The numbers tell an engaging story, but as you dig deeper and deeper into the real meaning of the data, our story becomes more and more unique – and truly exciting.”

This article was written for our sponsor, the Wake Forest Commercial and Industrial Partnership.