Wednesday, February 04, 2009

RTP – Unsung Pioneers – Forgotten History

Historical summaries are distillations by nature. Also natural is that the individuals who incubate an idea are often forgotten as stories are told and retold.

On the 50th anniversary of Research Triangle Park, here are 5 unsung, mostly overlooked, but indispensible pioneers of this namesake for NC’s Research Triangle Region:

  • Howard W. Odum – Dr. Odum headed the Odum Institute for Research in Social Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from 1920 until his death in 1954. He authored the idea for the Park to leverage three major research universities and promoted it to State officials. He even identified the location "near RDU Airport." The Park is located today in a part of Durham, two miles from the airport.

  • Governor William Umstead – The Durham native and former U.S. Congressman and Senator served only two years before his death in 1954, but his administration was receptive to Odum’s idea and empowered commerce officials to pursue it. Lt. Governor Luther Hodges, filling the remainder of Umstead’s term, brought the concept to fruition. (Romeo Guest, a Greensboro resident and frequent visitor to State commerce offices coined the term "Research Triangle.")

  • Harriet Laura Herring – An associate of Dr. Odum since 1925, Herring rewrote the book on NC economic development in 1945, was tapped by Umstead to head a commission to, in part, reinvent state economic development, and co-authored with another Odum student, George Simpson, a paper on sub-regional collaborations (such as RTP). Simpson became first executive director of RTP.

  • George Watts Hill – A Durham native, successful banker and UNC-CH benefactor would have obviously known Odum. Each had prize-winning, dairy livestock as an avocation; Hill with Guernsey’s and Odum with Jersey’s. Hill also helped bail out Pinelands, the private real estate arm of RTP, and helped assemble lands in Southeast Durham to base the Park.

  • Durham, NC – RTP is carved into Durham pinelands just 4 miles from Downtown and encompassed by the City of Durham in a special Durham County research and production district midway between Chapel Hill and Raleigh (two towns, Morrisville and Cary lie between the Park and Raleigh.) Durham ran the utilities to the park and subsidizes the namesake for the region by not collecting city taxes in return. RTP, NC 27709 is a vanity Durham postal substation.

    While a small portion now spills into a similar Wake County district near Cary and Morrisville, George Simpson, the first director of RTP, wrote:

    "Durham’s citizens have moved the Park forward with vision, leadership, and support. One cannot talk of the Park’s early days without recognizing Durham business leader, George Watts Hill. Other partners have been important…but the relationship with the City of Durham has always been special…"

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