By James Forrest

The Triangle area received great acclaim recently. As many of you have seen, Bloomberg Businessweek named Raleigh as America’s best city in its annual survey.

As we’ve noted before, the Triangle area has been no stranger to these types of recognition, as Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and surrounding areas provide formidable competition on the annual lists and surveys for well-being, quality of life, and best places to live and work.  These types of surveys look at a variety of criteria, ranging from quality of life measures such as amount of green space, healthcare, air quality, and commuting time/public transportation availability to other quality measures such as average household income, strength of public school systems, number of area colleges, diversity of the workforce, and much, much more.

It’s important to realize that this all doesn’t “just happen.” The Triangle, through various public and private entities, has engineered its current circumstance in some respects.  Starting decades ago with the visionary thinkers who conceived of Research Triangle Park to the various collaborative economic development engines (the Durham Chamber, CEDNC, Work in the Triangle, and many more) that routinely recruit new business to our area today, we have a lot of people working individually, and, more importantly, working together to ensure that the Triangle continues to raise its own standards for excellent living and working environments.

This hard, collaborative work doesn’t limit its presence to the private sector.  There are scores of examples of the public sector pulling together to advance the Triangle agenda. The Robertson Scholars program that unifies the best and brightest undergraduates at Duke and UNC comes to mind as a great example of this type of cross-pollination.  A client of mine in the world of product development for medical devices shared with me an interdisciplinary program, held jointly at UNC and NC State, that pooled these respective schools’ brightest minds at graduate level, in the service of spurring future product development in one of the Triangle’s most cherished product sectors.

At the other end of the public sector, in government, we’ve seen Triangle leaders willing to take controversial risks that paid off multi-fold.  Durham’s Performing Arts Center comes to mind as one of the greater examples—public officials took what many thought to be a risky path, but the community nonetheless rallied around the completed, world-class venue, and Durham now has a showpiece that’s not only attractive, but already among the more profitable venues of its kind in the country.

I like to use these opportunities of recognition to not only reflect and be thankful for all the people who bring ideas and hard work to the table from many different angles and perspectives, but also to look to the future for how we’ll continue to set ourselves apart in the Triangle.  It’s no doubt that our area’s growth (if others can’t beat us, they are sure joining us) brings about great success, but also big challenges. We’ll need to take risks AND be sensible about them (sounds like an attorney, doesn’t it?) when we approach what I think is the biggest of those challenges, transportation.

We can look to some of the successes of Charlotte, with its integrated trains and buses, but, as with everything else, the entities of the Triangle will need to collaborate in order to achieve anything on the level that Charlotte has accomplished unilaterally. When your regional fabric is so interwoven, you must work to bring together everyone’s interests, whether it’s Hillsborough or Knightdale.