Chapel Hill is home to one of the nation’s leading research universities, but has not, previously, been successful at retaining UNC start-ups or attracting light industrial companies. We note two forward steps taken by the Town this week toward creating a climate that will attract technology jobs to Chapel Hill.
First, on the night of Monday Feb. 20, 2017, the Council considered a new light industrial zone — a first step in attracting technology, wet lab or light manufacturing firms, a goal for which we have long advocated.
Why does Chapel Hill need this zone? UNC has spun out approximately 300 start-up companies over the last several decades. However, once these companies begin to prosper and emerge from on-campus ‘incubators’ they are forced to leave town because no suitable facilities are available. Until recently, there has been little coordination between the university and the local government.
We are pleased to see that Council is taking this step. Joan Guilkey representing CHALT shared observations about the scope and the likely technology business the zone is apt to attract, and those it would not attract. She made a number of suggestions on our behalf to improve the regulation and make it more straight forward. See CHALT recommendations.
The second noteworthy step this week is that Mayor Hemminger convened an Innovation Summit Breakfast on February 23rd attended by fifty Chapel Hill innovators and entrepreneurs, including UNC scientists and a number of young entrepreneurs who had successfully ‘graduated’ from the UNC LAUNCH facility, real estate people, and a number of Town and University staff.
The main purpose of the meeting was to brainstorm about a proposed ‘Innovation Council’ to help support start-ups and growing companies in Chapel Hill. Many agreed with the Mayor’s assessment the most successful models for fostering stronger innovation economies are led by the private sector as opposed to the local government or university. While UNC and the Town could be helpful, it is really the business community that needs to lead this effort, as happened in Ann Arbor, Boulder and in Durham at the highly successful American Underground.