• About 20% of all jobs in the U.S.economy are STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) jobs. — ( From a report issued last year on innovation districts by the Brookings Institution.)
  • Even the powerful Research Triangle Park in North Carolina sees the need to plan and get in the race for the most attractive jobs in the economy.
  • Murfreesboro’s current 1980s Master Plan for the Joe B. Jackson area:
  1. Raw materials in, finished products out.
  2. We’ll let the development community plan the place. Whatever they come up with is fine with us.

Maybe all this will change for the better when the city’s consultant releases his chapters on land use and economic development. We can only hope so. We also only pray that whatever the consultant recommends isn’t dead on arrival because council’s ad hoc rezonings have precluded any planning for Joe B. Jackson.

The 1960s model for the Research Triangle no longer relevant

That would be a pity because even North Carolina’s famed Research Triangle Park (RTP) has had to reinvent itself to adapt to a changing market and different expectations from a new generation of workers.

The RTP, the nation’s oldest and largest science park, has been one of the nation’s great success stories of the post World War era. Yet, a consultant suggests in a tentative master plan that the park must reinvent itself or lose out to newer and more flexible competitors. The consultant warns  that the park’s original plan, hatched in the mid-20th century, is no longer viable.

A huge park with big companies on isolated campuses

The seven-mile-long park has about 7,000 acres with more than 22 million gross square feet of
commercial space, including office, research, laboratory and industrial uses. It is home to 170 of the nation’s leading research and technology companies, including IBM and GlaxoSmithKline.

The park’s assets include:

  • It’s ties to Duke University in Durham, North Carolina State University in Raleigh, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  • A highly educated local workforce but lower labor costs than similar parks in the Northeast and on the West Coast
  • Its strict rules for preserving the park’s natural features, which have helped it avoid the haphazard, unattractive development of many other suburban science parks.

But there are dark clouds of the horizon:

  • Many of the park’s buildings are aging and need modernization.
  • The RTP’s model of large company-owned properties, often totally screened by trees, may not meet the needs of cutting-edge companies and a new generation of knowledge workers.
  • The park faces stiff challenges from newer competitors here and abroad, who have designed their science parks for interaction among companies and workers rather than as isolated research facilities.
  • While the RTP has an impressive list of major American technology companies on its roster, it isn’t attracting many of cutting -edge start-ups being spun off by the three nearby universities.
  • There is no central plaza or similar feature in the park where people can mix and exchange ideas.

Today’s knowledge workers want to interact with their peers

The plan suggests that the park’s current development model, large campuses  owned by
a single company, no longer reflects the market.

Many of today’s knowledge workers want more opportunities to interact with their colleagues and share ideas. They are anxious to reduce their dependence on the automobile, get rid of long commutes and work where shopping, entertainment and restaurants are within walking distance of their workplaces.

The tentative plan recommends:

  • Providing more rental properties that would attract smaller, less established firms,  including those research firms spun off by area universities.
  • Creating a wide range of research uses that would serve large corporations but also mid-size companies and small startups that just want to rent space.
  • Adding temporary stay quarters for a company’s employees who are sent to the park to work on a short-term project.

Mixed uses for the park

  • Relaxing the ban on residential development and providing some multi-family units that cater to the wishes of those workers who want their work, dining and entertainment spots located close together. Many new hires, the report concludes, aren’t ready to  buy a house and want to rent. Getting specific, the plan suggests starting with 1,400 housing units, with open space corridors and streams in the development.
  • Including ground-level stores and restaurants with housing developments built in the park.
  • Building a luxury hotel in the park when the market for this use improves. It would serve as a shared conference center and community forum at the park.
  • Adding new rail stations or providing shuttle buses so workers could take public transportation and then walk to their jobs.
  • Improving the RTP’s Triangle Transit bus system. Currenly the buses drop riders off at the edges of the park. The plan suggests the system could attract more riders if its routes ran closer to where people work. Currently only about 2% of people working in the park use public transit.

If the Research Triangle Park is undergoing a major course change to attract highly desirable knowledge workers and research firms, maybe Murfreesboro should at least think about getting in the game.