Industry Competitors Collaborate to Grow Triangle Cleantech Cluster

Published on May 21, 2013 from WRAL Tech Wire: Part II of a three-part series on the Research Triangle Region’s Cleantech Cluster.

In the marketplace, they compete fiercely for market share and profits. In the Research Triangle Region of North Carolina, they collaborate with equal ferocity to create the smart, clean technologies of the future. And they’re paying $75,000 each for the privilege.

They are founding members of the Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster (RTCC), executives from 11 industry-leading companies investing in a carefully constructed plan to make the 13-county Research Triangle Region the global hub of cleantech innovation and the top destination for cleantech companies.

The stakes are high. The global utility industry alone, a key player in the cleantech sector, expects to spend $1.5 trillion over the next five years to upgrade smart grid infrastructure. When they do, RTCC members want to ensure the industry turns to regional companies for their technology, products, services and support.

The Research Triangle Region enjoys a significant lead in the cleantech sector. A fortuitous choice back in 1954 brought a key player, Westinghouse, to the region when it relocated its electricity meter division from Newark, N.J. to Raleigh. In the decades since, all of the elements for a world-leading cleantech cluster have developed organically. It now includes hundreds of companies that cover the entire spectrum of the cleantech industry – from energy generation, transmission, distribution, consumption and analytics, to the purification, storage, use, treatment and discharge of water, to the development of plug-in electric vehicle technologies. They are supported by a critical mass of researchers and a network of organizations focused on promoting innovation and business development for cleantech-related industries.

But RTCC is not leaving the future to chance. It has begun work on a strategic plan to identify all of the region’s competitive assets in the sector; provide existing companies the R&D, funding, talent and workforce training they need to grow; recruit and support the startup of new cleantech companies in the region; and develop a high-impact global brand to package and sell the sector and its solutions to the world.

The Research Triangle Regional Partnership first identified the cleantech cluster as a regional economic development priority in 2009 as part of its five-year plan. It formed the RTCC in 2011, gaining global recognition as part of the International Cleantech Network. In 2012, the industry component kicked in aggressively with the formation of an industry board of directors and development of its strategic plan.

Eleven globally recognized leaders and competitors in their respective industries now serve as founding RTCC board members. They are: ABB Inc., Cisco, Duke Energy, Field2Base Inc., Power Analytics Corp., PowerSecure International, RTI International, SAS, Schneider Electric, Sensus and Siemens. Key to the cleantech strategy is bringing together existing companies and attracting new ones that can develop and offer the end-to-end solutions needed to meet the world’s sustainable energy and water needs. Recruiting for additional board members and other business members will begin in June.

Meanwhile, RTCC work groups are focusing in 2013 on a list of tactics to expand the region’s global networks for research and business development, support and connect the region’s cleantech entrepreneurship community, attract talent, provide targeted workforce development, and facilitate industry-led discussions of effective public policies needed to support the growth of the cleantech economy.

In addition, RTCC plans to engage in high-profile projects that implement proven cleantech products and services. These demonstrations will accelerate the region’s global recognition as a center of clean technology deployment. An Academic Consortium now being formed will directly link the cluster to the region’s universities, community colleges and K-12 education community to advance both research and workforce development.

In the end, the RTCC is about partnerships and collaboration, creating more by working together than any one company or organization can achieve on its own. The region’s rich history of collaboration – its Triple Helix model -- has proven time and again that the ability to leverage the region’s collective assets and face economic challenges together is a significant competitive advantage. Applying that model to accelerate the region’s cleantech economy should ensure business growth and jobs, global leadership in cleantech invention and manufacturing, and a sustainable future for us all.

Ed White is chairman and CEO of Field2Base Inc. and chairman of the Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster, an initiative of business, government, academic and nonprofit leaders working to accelerate the cleantech economy.

See original story on WRAL Tech Wire.

By Ed White, Chairman, Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster

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