Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Building Research Parks As Well as Arenas and Casinos

While the Pittsburgh Region debates where a casino should go and whether it will pay for a new arena, other regions are making major investments in research parks to help create high-wage jobs for the future.

The latest project is the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis, about 30 miles northeast of Charlotte. The University of North Carolina, North Carolina State University, and Duke University are partnering with David Murdock, owner of Dole Food Co., to transform a former textile factory into a 350-acre campus for university and corporate researchers and for start-up businesses based on the technologies developed there.

This project joins North Carolina State's new Centennial Campus surrounding the Lake Raleigh reservoir - a 1,300 acre "technopolis" to provide space for university, corporate, and government labs and for start-up firms - and the already famous Research Triangle Park in Raleigh-Durham - the largest research park in the world, housing 136 organizations and over 37,000 workers.

But it's not just North Carolina developing research parks to attract R&D and technology jobs, and research parks don't require thousands of acres of land to be successful. Boston/Cambridge did it with 27 acres at the University Park at MIT. Seattle is creating a 50-acre waterfront research park at South Lake Union. The Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, which is running out of room for expansion, is planning to develop a new waterfront campus in a former industrial district along the Willamette River. Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, New York, San Francisco, and other regions all have developed or are developing special campuses to house R&D facilities.

"Transforming a former textile factory into a research park" and "creating a waterfront research campus" sound a lot like a project to "transform a former steel mill and coke plant into a 200-acre technology park" right here in Pittsburgh. The expansion of the Pittsburgh Technology Center site and the redevelopment of the former LTV Coke Works site, located less than a mile from the heart of Oakland, provide the opportunity to develop what other regions are developing. Better yet, the project is right along the riverfront, connected by trails to the South Side and Downtown, easily matching the amenities available in research parks in places like Boston and Seattle.

But a major investment in improved transportation connections to Oakland is needed. Although the Pittsburgh Technology Center and the LTV Coke Works Site are less than a mile away from the universities and medical center, it's a tough mile - Bates Street is a traffic nightmare and Port Authority buses don't fit through the underpass to Second Avenue. Boundary Street through Junction Hollow could be a connection, but it was closed to through traffic years ago.

The University of Pittsburgh, UPMC, and Carnegie Mellon are key economic growth engines for the Pittsburgh Region. Had it not been for jobs created at the universities and in health care, there would be fewer jobs in the Pittsburgh Region today than in 1999.

We need to keep those economic engines growing and creating more jobs. But they need space to grow, and Oakland is running out of space. The Pittsburgh Technology Center and LTV Coke Works projects are essential to keep these economic engines growing, to provide space and amenities to attract more corporate R&D Centers like Google, and to provide facilities for startup firms.

Governor Rendell's Jonas Salk Legacy Fund could provide some of the capital needed to develop the sites into a major research park, but unfortunately it would do so at the expense of some of the funding needed to support the research itself. An alternative plan, to support both new facilities and research, could be a win-win for the region and the state. But the state will need to provide not only funding for research facilities, but funding for improved transportation connections as well.

These could well be some of the best investments the state and region could make.


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