significantly above the U.S. national average. “In the 1960s, it was one of the poorest regions in the southeastern United States and today is among the wealthiest in the southeast.”3
Although a number of individuals in the North Carolina of the 1940s envisioned that the state’s universities could play a role in economic development, the idea of Research Triangle Park is generally conceded to have been conceived by Romeo H. Guest, a North Carolina entrepreneur who was trained as an architectural engineer at MIT, where he saw how research could contribute directly to a local economy. Guest moved to Greensboro in 1936 to open a branch of his family’s construction business and began to develop contacts with out-of-state companies seeking locations for factories in the South. Between 1939 and 1942, he sought to persuade Merck & Company to locate in Aberdeen, NC but the firm chose a site near the University of Virginia’s teaching hospital. As a result of this experience, Guest began to advocate establishment of a planned research center in North Carolina drawing on the resources of Duke, North Carolina State University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UCNC), and the recruitment of companies with a research orientation.4 He traveled outside the state with former state treasurer Brandon Hodges and other industrial recruiters to talk about the state with businesses. On October 10, 1953, Guest later recalled, “I wrote down Research Triangle Park [in my diary]”, the first use of that term.5
Hodges had been elected state treasurer of North Carolina in 1948 and sought to bring new industries to the state, particularly those with a technological orientation, to help it diversify its economic base beyond its principal traditional industries, tobacco, textiles, and furniture, all of which employed low-wage workers. In 1952, North Carolina ranked third from the bottom among states with respect to per capita income. Hodges took Guest’s Research Triangle idea to Governor Luther Hodges (no relation) but the Governor was initially unreceptive and apparently not aware of the role technology could play in economic development. Hodges secured the help of William Newell, director of the North Carolina Textile Research Center, a
3Rick L. Weddle, “Research Triangle Park: Past Success and the Global Challenge,” in National Research Council, Understanding Research, Science and Technology Parks: Global Best Practices—Summary of a Symposium, C. Wessner, ed., Washington DC: The National Academies Press, 2009, pp. 104.
4The three research universities had a strong reputation in the mid-Twentieth Century. However, given the lack of employment opportunities for graduates, “North Carolina was experiencing serious ‘brain drain’, with many of its college graduates moving to other states in search for employment. J.W. Hardin, “North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park,” Pathways to High-Tech Valleys and Research Triangles: Innovative Entrepreneurship, Knowledge Transfer, and Cluster Formation in Europe and the United States, Dordrecht: Springer, 2008.
5“Romeo Guest Was Force Behind Research Triangle Park,” Wilmington Star News April 31, 1983.