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Ten Great Innovation Markets in the South

By Laura Corbin

Behind theme park magic, beautiful historic settings and genteel communities in the South lie innovative regions that know how to be big players in today’s new economy – nurturing and attracting innovation-driven industry and businesses that bring the knowledge economy to their front doors.  These communities are defined by vision, drive and self-determination.

Hampton Roads, Va.

With a population approaching 1.6 million, the Hampton Roads area is the fourth largest metropolitan area in the Southeast.  It has one of the largest concentrations of active-duty military personnel and is the home to the world’s largest naval base, making Hampton Roads a focal point for defense-related and security operations.  Norfolk State University’s RISE Campus (Research and Innovations to Support Empowerment) is a strategic hub for the applied research and technological innovations to position the region as a key high-technology gateway.  Opened in April 2007, the RISE Campus’ first research facility, the Marie V. McDemmond Center for Applied Research, is a state-owned, six-story, 128,000-square-foot building and is the anchor for applied research, graduate-level education, and the training for the work force of the future in science, engineering and technology.  The campus will enable the entire Hampton Roads region to attract high-technology-related companies and their innovations, promote economic development, and create high-way jobs.

Savannah/Creative Coast Initiative

Behind its beautiful, historic setting, Savannah is a community that has it going on.  Savannah’s convergence of creative talent, innovative technologies, pro-business spirit and exceptional quality of life delivers the resources and inspiration to launch new business ideas.  By strategically linking creative and technological assets, Savannah attracts the most innovative companies and entrepreneurs.  Savannah is home to more than 400 knowledge-based businesses.  Seventeen area colleges and universities boast 44,000 students, and more than 5,000 graduates each year receive degrees in business, digital media and computer science.  In January 2008, the Creative Coast Alliance (TCCa) announced plans to further the creation and growth of new companies in Savannah’s technology sector by assisting local high-tech start-ups to enter their business plans in the 2008 Georgia Research Alliance/Technology Association of Georgia Business Launch Competition.  The competition is designed to strengthen and expand Georgia’s strategic high-tech clusters by helping a Georgia technology-based start-up company to launch its business.

Oklahoma City, Okla.

A new “BIO-corridor” has emerged along Interstate 35 from Stillwater through Oklahoma City, Norman and Ardmore.  An amazing 99 percent of the state’s research and development in the life sciences is created along this BIO-corridor.  In 2005, the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber commissioned Battelle Technology Partnership Practice to develop a regional strategic bioscience plan to build on its robust bioscience sector.  The area already boasts the Okla¬homa Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology and i2E-Turning Innovation into Enterprise, two state programs that have become national models, and its BIO-corridor includes successful research parks, incubators and economic develop¬ment organizations.  The area’s 300-acre Oklahoma Health Center employs 12,500, represents a $2.5 billion investment and contributes $1.8 billion a year to the regional economy.  The Presbyterian Health Foundation Research Park includes 21 bioscience companies and research organizations.  Public and private lenders have invested in research for the agriculture industry at Oklahoma State University, the University of Oklahoma and the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation.

Raleigh/Cary/Durham, N.C.

The Raleigh-Cary-Durham region is in the heart of the Research Triangle Region of North Carolina – one of the most dynamic and globally competitive regions in the world.  The region offers research, education and engagement by three of the nation’s top institutions – Duke University, North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill; extensive resources and networks supporting entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity; and more than $2 billion in annual research and development conducted at regional universities, federal laboratories and contract research companies.  Launched in 2004, “Staying on Top: Winning the Job Wars of the Future,” the region’s competitiveness plan, spelled out a five-year, $5 million agenda to create 100,000 jobs in the region.  Officials announced in January 2008 that more than 90,000 of those jobs already had been added, and that $1.2 billion in life sciences and information technology had been attracted in just the past two years.  The area already is home to a critical mass of life sciences companies, large and small, from Fortune 500 giants GlaxoSmithKline and Wyeth to multinationals Novo Nordisk and Novozymes to next-generation leaders AlphaVax, Inspire Pharmaceuticals and Serenex.

Orlando, Fla.

Behind the glitz of Orlando’s theme parks is a bursting high-tech industry that marries imagination with the real world.  It’s a $13 billion technology industry, and next to tourism, modeling and simulation and training technology are the largest industries in the area.  They attract such companies as Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics, and more than 140 others employing some 17,000 workers.  The National Center for Simulation, headquartered at the University of Central Florida, is the sixth largest simulation and training facility in the country and was the first to offer master’s degree and Ph.D. programs.  New is the House of Moves, a motion-capture studio that opened in late 2007 – the only such facility on the East Coast.  The firm has collaborated with UCF to offer student training programs, giving it fresh new ideas and new recruits.  Orlando’s new “Putting Imagination to Work” economic development program has expanded the city’s brand for innovation.  Top technology sectors include digital media; optics and photonics; aviation/aerospace; homeland security/defense; financial services technology; information technology; agritechnology; energy and alternative fuels; and life science/biotechnology.

Austin/Round Rock, Texas

The Austin-Round Rock region is known as the “Human Capital” for its unique ability to attract and retain a young and highly educated talent pool.  The region is defined by stunning growth, lower business and living costs than most major metro areas, and a talented tech-savvy population.  A focus on innovation has made Austin-Round Rock the top location in the country for the “creative class,” according to author and leading economist Richard Florida.  The area’s economic development staff has attracted a number of innovative companies recently, including HelioVolt Corp., a producer of highly efficient thin film solar energy products, which recently announced plans to locate its first full-scale solar manufacturing plant in Austin.  In 2006, Samsung announced the location of its latest 300mm wafer fabrication plant to the area.  Already in production, the 1.2 million-square-foot facility is the largest wafer fab in the U.S.  In addition, the $4 billion capital investment is one of the largest foreign direct investment projects in U.S. history.  In Round Rock, the economy is dominated by Dell Inc., with an estimated 10,000 employees.

Huntsville, Ala.

Huntsville’s designation as a high-technology community – the Wall Street Journal notes Huntsville has the highest ratio of engineers per capita– began decades ago, in the 1950s, with the nation’s Army Ballistic Missile program, which designed, tested and built the rockets that first took America to space.  Huntsville has remained a high-tech mecca, the site of the Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command; Aviation and Missile Command; Missiles and Space; and the Missile Defense Agency.  The Arsenal is primarily civilian employees working as engineers, program managers, logisticians and scientists.  NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center manages the next generation rockets.  Cummings Research Park is filled with companies supporting the Army, MDA and NASA.  It is the second-largest research and technology park in the United States.  The HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology is one of the emerging and potentially explosive economic development engines in Huntsville/Madison County since the 1950s and 1960s.  It will include some of the world’s top scientists and engineers and led by Jim Hudson and Dr. Rick Myers, among the world’s leaders in the study of the human genome.

Winston-Salem, N.C.

Winston-Salem’s tradition in financial services, health care and medical technology is driving the community’s transformation from a legacy manufacturing hub to a 21st century high-tech economy.  The 230-acre Piedmont Triad Research Park in downtown Winston-Salem, developed by Wake Forest University Health Sciences, will be a catalyst for high-tech growth for the next 25 years.  With the presence of the community’s WinstonNet fiber infrastructure in place, Winston-Salem is a finalist for the Intelligent Community Forum’s “2008 Intelligent Community of the Year” award.  Winston-Salem is a model Southern community that is paving the way for the industries of the future.

Lafayette, La.

From its world-renowned cuisine and festivals to its state-of-the-art virtual reality center and high-tech infrastructure, Lafayette is founded on creativity and innovation.  The city is the center of a region that is not only multicultural, but multi-industrial.  In 2005, Lafayette approved the Fiber to the Premises project, giving every home and business fiber connectivity for high-speed Internet access, telephone and cable TV services, giving customers in the first phase services by January 2009.  Stretching the town’s connectivity further is LONI (Louisiana Optical Network Initiative), a fiber optic network connecting supercomputers at major research universities, allowing for computation speeds greater than 1,000 times the rate previously possible.  The University of Louisiana and the Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise (LITE) in Lafayette are connected to LONI, connecting Louisiana to the National LambdaRail, a 15,000-mile, nationwide fiber network dedicated to research.  LITE, a $27 million complex, is one of the most comprehensive and tightly integrated data visualization and supercomputing installations in the world.  LITE hosts commercial businesses and researchers who require large-scale collaborative environments for research, application development, testing and validation, product development, most comprehensive supercomputing and 3D immersive visualization systems and massive data storage capabilities available.

Roanoke, Va.

Superior knowledge resources, such as Virginia Tech, make the Roanoke region great for innovators.  Virginia Tech research centers do millions of dollars of research for business and industry each year.  Examples include the Institute for Biomedical and Public Health Sciences, a major initiative established in 2003 to focus on research and training in the life sciences by strategically investing resources in selected areas of importance to society; the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Sciences, which supports the interdisciplinary research of faculty members in physical sciences, engineering, and information technology; the Fralin Biotechnology Center, which provides space and resources for the university’s emphasis on infectious disease research; and the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, a research institute dedicated to the study of the biological sciences.  Luna Innovation Inc.’s Advanced Systems Division is developing and launching solutions to leverage the companies’ technologies into the federal and commercial marketplace, including sensing systems, health care products, integrated systems and sub-systems, biotech products and advanced material systems.  Luna develops and manufactures new-generation products for the health care, telecommunications, energy and defense markets.  Synchrony, another Roanoke company, specializes in the development and production of magnetic bearings, controls and power systems for high-speed rotating machinery.

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