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The North Carolina Innovation Crescent

The NC Innovation Crescent will be a globally-significant center of innovation by connecting the Piedmont’s existing educational, corporate and human resources into a unified labor / knowledge market. The Raleigh-Greensboro-Charlotte crescent will be linked by enhancing the existing state-owned passenger rail system. Improvements currently underway (and paid for) will bring Charlotte and Raleigh within an hour rail commute to the Triad. This will create a region of 12 universities, four medical schools, four engineering schools, 21 Fortune 1000 headquarters, four globally-renowned research parks, three international airports, six million residents and 1.5 million skilled workers, an innovative capacity similar to Seattle or Boston.

These assets are currently too dispersed to maintain meaningful linkages between them – our geography is an impediment to innovation. Bridging these gaps will facilitate interactions and could increase North Carolina’s output by more than $50 billion per year (by bringing our productivity levels closer to the peer cities above). Improved mobility will also allow workers in the region to access a broader range of employment options, which is critical in the volatile innovation-industry labor market.

A commuter rail network, on existing 90 mph tracks, is proposed to unify the region. This system will bring the Triad within a one hour commute of both Charlotte and Raleigh — an hour faster than driving. The network’s stations are within 5 miles of 60% of the region’s population and 74% of its businesses. Commuter fares are estimated to be $8-10 and the cost of necessary improvements to the rail system are estimated to be half of the proposed, $2 billion, Research Triangle Park redesign.

By facilitating worker mobility and opportunities for knowledge sharing, the Innovation Crescent proposal would substantially increase the scope and scale of innovation in regional firms and institutions. Unifying the dispersed urban system also improves the visibility of our innovative assets to the global array of workers, firms and investors searching for productive locations. Finally, this strategy will spread the benefits of innovative activity beyond the Triangle region into areas with lower costs, this will improve quality of life and increase opportunities for entrepreneurship.

William Graves (UNC Charlotte) and Jon Middleton (Map Room Associates). Concept is currently under consideration for funding by the US EDA.

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