Think of the New South as a brand, then think of high-tech growth, cutting-edge research, and fresh talent — positioned and packaged with a touch of old-fashioned Southern hospitality.
For Charles Hayes, the golden passage to success in the new Southern economy starts with a smart group of business folks. His job is to recruit those harbingers and heralds for North Carolina. Determined to draw the best companies worldwide, Hayes acts as a spokesman and recruiter for a 13-county region of North Carolina anchored by the Research Triangle Park. Collaborative research among the triangle sectors — business, government, and academia – is the foremost strength and selling point of the region. “We want your company to come down here,” Hayes playfully chides in a cordial, Southern drawl. “Wherever you’re located, y’all should be here.”
The 53-year-old native of North Carolina says the New South is creating a culture of constant change. Take management styles for instance: Though Hayes still wears a starched shirt and tie to work everyday, he revels in the fact that some local high-tech employees sport Birkenstocks and cut off pants to the office.
A Mission Statement for the New South
Our goal is to ensure that the entire population is able to reap the benefits of a strong, growing economy. Right now, we’re dividing into two Souths: the educated and the uneducated. We need an economy that doesn’t just throw people aside but allows everyone to participate. If you could have one tool to compete against the rest of the world, what would it be? I would say give me the most educated work force in the world.
The great equalizer of this nation is education. Regardless of discipline — whether you study engineering, biology, chemistry, or literature — education is the definitive success factor. I’m on the leading edge of the baby boomers. In my parent’s generation, successful members of society only needed to work hard. But today you have to be educated and work hard.
Sharing New Prosperity
The South used to be a place populated by backwoods farmers, poor folks, and either wealthy plantation owners or investors. By and large the poor substantially outnumbered the wealthy. But all of a sudden, the New South is the land of opportunity — and not for the elite few but for the educated. A strong magnet is drawing young, well-educated workers to our end of the world. What separates the new Southern economy from its past is the opportunity to share a prosperity that the region historically has not provided.
Expanding the Talent Pool
When it comes to recruiting talent, the world is looking south, quite frankly. We are very aggressive in trying to recruit businesses from different parts of the world to come here, and the reason for that is change. There’s constant change: companies grow, leave, start up, quit, and move on. It’s constant turmoil but not in a negative sense. It’s nonstop churning and we’re always guessing who is going to merge next weekend. As a result, we continually have to market the area to the business world. We welcome them, we need them, and we want them. Business people follow opportunity, and there’s a lot of opportunity in our part of the world right now.
A Snapshot of Success
When you think of Research Triangle Park, you think of high-tech, cutting-edge, biotechnology, and information technology — the stuff that drives the world. Very few places in the world are positioning themselves for the economy of the 21st century, bolstering polished economies for information technology and biotechnology. Certainly the South is not the only attractive place for venture capital, but the Raleigh-Durham area of the South is certainly one of the places venture capitalists ought to go. In many ways, Red Hat has encouraged entrepreneurs and business leaders to say, “The South, hmmm.” Success breeds success.
We have an entirely different vision than Silicon Valley, where startup, high-tech industries abound. It’s obviously very successful, but our economy is more diversified. We also try to attract industries like automotive supply parts manufacturing, and warehousing and distribution. We make a point to maintain that diversification, not just improve it. Other examples of success in the South would be the Charlotte region of North Carolina, the Richmond area of Virginia, and Tampa and Orlando, pockets mainly around Spartenberg, South Carolina and Atlanta. Thirty years ago you would have pointed to Atlanta and said it was head-and-tails above every other Southern city. Today it’s not the only Southern success story.
Wish for the future
I hope to see flourishing communities dispersed throughout the South. We don’t need huge metropolitan areas, but we need strong, thriving cities. At the same time, America’s rural landscape has produced some of our nation’s finest presidents, generals, admirals, and captains of industry. So, it behooves us as a nation, a state, and a Southern region to do all we can to create viable, rural communities as well.
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