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Understanding the famous Triangle

The following is a guest post by Spencer Mahony, HM Consul & UKTI Regional Director for the South East US.

There are many famous triangles in the world: the golden triangle in India, which takes in Delhi, Agra (home to the Taj Mahal) and Jaipur; the golden triangle of Oxford, Cambridge and London which has a wealth of talent and innovation that is hard to match anywhere in the world; of course there is also the Bermuda triangle. But I was keen to understand another famous triangle: North Carolina's Research Triangle. Having recently visited, I feel safe in saying it is one of the most impressive triangles and amongst the strongest for science, innovation, and R&D.

The Triangle, which includes Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, has become one of the fastest growing areas in the country for high-tech commerce. As part of my role in helping connect UK businesses with the US, and vice versa, I headed down to meet with some of the region's leaders and find out why it has become such an attractive site for US companies like SAS and RedHat, as well as UK companies like GlaxoSmithKline and Smith & Nephew.

The Triangle has Duke, UNC-Chapel Hill, and NC State University in its corners and a critical mass of businesses that have developed in the huge park between them. It is a big draw for life sciences due to the talent emerging from the universities and the supportive cluster. This is similar to the UK where the golden triangle has an abundant supply of talent from students studying at universities and the many high skilled migrants who have been drawn to the UK for work. The North Carolina triangle has a strong support network for translating research into medical solutions. Quintiles is a Raleigh Contract Research Organisation that helps with research — obviously they have a keen eye for location, since they operate in the UK's golden triangle as well!

Another side of the Triangle, besides life sciences, is energy. The merger of North Carolina's two regulated energy players, Progress and Duke Energy, will create the largest utility in the US. The Triangle's development agencies are trying to leverage this expertise and academic links to foster the development of green technology hub. The Research Triangle Region Partnership & Raleigh Chamber of Commerce told us that smart grids are part of the vision for the hub. They were keen to hear about some UK plans in the works: Ashton Hayes Smart Village, which is integrating microgeneration and combined heat and power (CHP) into the grid for a thousand-person community in Cheshire; and the Low Carbon Network Fund "Low Carbon London" initiative, which will roll out 25,000 EV charging points by 2015, supporting 100,000 electric vehicles. Smart grids will be important for the UK's Offshore Wind programme which is the world's largest as well as plans for microgeneration and solar. The installation of 46 million smart meters will help ensure UK homes are able to improve their energy usage and create significant opportunities for businesses. There is therefore lots of sharing to be done between the UK and the Triangle's energy community.

The third part of the Triangle is technology. I met the North Carolina Technology Association to see how we can help Triangle tech companies to grow their business in Europe through the UK. Major local ICT players SAS and Red Hat already have UK operations but there are a number of smaller companies we can work with. The UK's ability to offer top-notch academia, a skilled workforce and a competitive corporate tax code (already the lowest in the G7 and being lowered even further to 23%), along with the ease of doing business in the UK, make the UK as much of a natural choice as the Raleigh-Durham choice was for tech companies. A key opportunity will also be helping triangle companies benefit from Tech City in East London with NCTA.

Given that the trip coincided with my birthday, I took a little bit of time to experience some genuine Americana. Outside of the triangle I stopped by the headquarters of Market America, an American success story that harnessed the power of the Internet. A fascinating business story. I also made my first trip to a Wal-Mart. The size of the store meant I felt like I could have actually been to the Bermuda triangle as it was so vast one could roam the aisles for days, weeks, even months and return home having missed the world go by. Luckily I did make it out and returned to DC with a much better understanding of the Triangle and scope for collaboration with the UK. There are lots more we do together and I am looking forward to making it happen with our new colleagues in the Triangle.

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