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Triad finds new type of industry

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Charlotte has banking, the Triangle has biotech. The Triad has a little bit of both as well as traditional industries. However, the Triad could be seeking an industry that Charlotte or the Triangle has not approached. This new industry could finally give the Triad its own national brand identity. I'm talking about the "design" industry which could lead to the Triad becoming a major design center for the fashion world (The Triad already has a strong textile base)(include the Triad with New York and Paris for major fashion shows) , film, software development, architecture and so much more. The design industry would also lead to spin-off associated manufacturing facilities in the area as well. Combine all this with the coming FedEx hub! The Triad is well know for the arts. Now all the Triad has to do is to build on that stregnth. Such an industry would lead to the Triad becoming more cosmopolitan and ultimately building a "world class" image for the region. with a focus relating the design industry with film, maybe one day the Triad could become "Hollywood of the East Coast" (a major movie was just shot in the streets of downtown Greensboro a few days ago) It seems far fetched today but so was the idea of the Triangle becoming a major research and biotech mecca in the United States. 30 years ago, people would have laughed at Charlotte become one of the top 3 banking centers in the United States. But it will all have to start with the Triad's educational institutions like the way it did with the Triangle's Biotech industry.

Triad colleges unite for design institute

Mick Normington

The Business Journal Serving the Greater Triad Area

Taking to heart the notion that the Triad can be a leading center for design, the region's four public universities are taking the unprecedented step of proposing a joint curriculum to create what they're calling a National Institute of Design.

The effort, which includes the community colleges in Guilford and Forsyth counties, would involve students from each of the schools taking design-related classes on a variety of campuses under the proposed institute's organizing structure.

Within that structure, all classes and faculty research would center on the concept of skills training and new-product design. The institute would see itself as bringing together existing academic departments to focus on the goal of training future workers in designing everything from clothing and furniture to pharmaceuticals and film.

"It's big," said Rosemary Wander, associate provost for research at UNC- Greensboro who is helping to develop the concept. "We see it as scholarship and curriculum, but we're acutely aware of economic development and our role in the economy of this region."

This week, UNCG, N.C. State A&T University, Winston-Salem State University and the N.C. School of the Arts joined with Forsyth Technical Community College and Guilford Technical Community College to request at least $1 million each from the General Assembly to create the new institute. It's the first time these schools have ever collaborated.

Most of that money would go to buying computer-aided design equipment that would be used on campuses of each of the schools. The concept still needs to be fully developed, but if approved, the new institute could start as early as fall 2005.

"The idea is novel and it's going to set the region apart," said Amy Holloway, vice president for economic development at AngelouEconomics in Austin, Texas. "Greensboro and Winston-Salem would be on the cutting edge with this."

Last fall, following an in-depth analysis of the Triad, consultant Angelos Angelou recommended that the Triad could establish a national identity for itself by organizing, supporting and better branding its existing academic and professional design activities.

The Triad schools had that Angelou report in mind when coming up with the design institute concept. Holloway said that to her knowledge, no other group of universities in the nation have come together to create a multidiscipline design- training program.

She added that creating a national institute in the Triad could attract companies that are involved in architecture, software development, new consumer products, fashion, film, medical products, marketing and a variety of fields that require design creativity for addressing business needs.

In the past year, faculty and administrators at each of the four universities have spent time drafting plans for new design-oriented classes on their own campuses. The two community colleges also heard the design message while trying to expand their own curriculum.

Then, through casual conversation recently among professors, they realized they were all proposing similar programs. In the last two weeks, the six schools rushed together to create the joint proposal, said Lucinda Lavelli, provost at the School of the Arts.

"All of us have never worked together; it's six different cultures coming together," Lavelli said. "We don't have a road map for this."

The six schools are submitting their funding request to the UNC System as part of the state's so-called expansion budget. The chancellors of the 16 state universities will see the final plan before it goes back to the UNC System board, which will decide later this year if it can be presented to the legislature in February.

In order to get through all of those channels, representatives of the six Triad schools need to work together on revising the plan this summer.

That's possible -- also unprecedented, said Alan Mabe, vice president of academic planning for the UNC System.

Mabe said there are a few examples of two North Carolina universities working together on degree programs -- for example, UNCG and N.C. A&T have a joint masters program in social work. But never before have more than two institutions worked together, much less six.

Still, the concept is attractive, said Russ Lea, the UNC System's vice president for research and sponsored programs. The proposal by the Triad schools has to go through Lea, and he said he already likes the idea.

"It's brilliant to bring in the community colleges," Lea said. "It's a stronger proposition when you go in together than going it alone. Getting campuses to talk about bigger ideas rather than single campus ideas is much more attractive, no question about it."

Coordinating classes, student credit hours and distance-learning technology will be issues that will have to be worked out before the UNC System will approve the idea. But getting money out of the legislature for this endeavor will only work if Triad companies publicly support it, Lea said.

"If you have the business community behind you, then the legislature will listen to your request. That's a given," Lea said. "Industry needs to grab onto this initiative like a dog with a bone."

Seeking a leader

The goal of the design institute is to ultimately strengthen the regional business community in a variety of fields. Companies could be created or they could be attracted to locate here because of a potentially steady supply of trained workers coming out of the schools, said Lavelli from the School of the Arts.

"Initially we're thinking of the economics of our region, but these are skills that are needed worldwide," Lavelli said.

Still, a leader is needed, and that could prove a significant challenge.

Lavelli and all others involved with the plan say a champion has not stepped up to lead this effort and so far there are no candidates. Lea said a leader is needed to bring faculty and administrators together from across the two counties as well as to sell the idea to the Triad business community.

That job would be daunting.

"This is unique and one-of-a-kind, especially of this magnitude," said Melvin Johnson, Winston-Salem State provost.

Johnson said administrators from UNCG and the School of the Arts are pushing the hardest for the institute idea, so a leader may emerge this summer from those campuses. But administrators on each campus are busy trying to coordinate their own involvement in the design institute.

Regardless, enthusiasm for the project at this early stage remains high.

"We're very excited about working with the other institutions," said Lavelli at the School of the Arts. "We're going to go where no man has gone before."

Design institute needs lobbying push from Triad businesses

The Business Journal Serving the Greater Triad Area

At first blush, the effort to create a National Institute of Design in the Triad's public schools of higher education looks like a winner.

Picking up where consultant AngelouEconomics left off, UNC-Greensboro, N.C. A&T State University, Winston-Salem State University and the N.C. School of the Arts are joining with the community colleges in Guilford and Forsyth counties to propose a design-oriented curriculum in their campuses. Doing so would go a long way toward fulfilling Angelou's vision of branding the Triad as a bona fide center for design -- one of the few economic development opportunities not already being claimed by every other community in the nation.

The idea is that the schools could churn out a design-industry work force, supplying existing and incoming companies with the employees they require. Industries ranging from clothing to biotechnology would have a regular crop of trained workers at their disposal.

The fact that the schools are cooperating like this in and of itself is cause for celebration. Based on a broad outline of what they'd like to achieve, the next step is getting the Triad's business community together in similar fashion. It's never easy to pry $6 million from state lawmakers. But Triad leaders can remind legislators that last year -- during an even tighter budget cycle -- $68 million was earmarked for N.C. State and N.C. Central for biotech training programs, thanks in large part to vocal support from the Triangle's pharmaceutical industry.

Such is the wide backing the National Institute of Design may need from the entire Triad if it is to become a reality. Pay attention through this summer as the idea develops. We'll need to move quickly if and when the time comes to rally for this seemingly worthy cause.

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Two thumbs up!!! The Triad can do a lot to diversify its economy, while lead in areas that other NC cities haven't discovered yet. What's good for the Triad is good for North Carolina. I will be looking for updates on this.

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