Think All Businesses In RTP Are Huge? Think Again

Dec 5, 2014

One of RTP's smaller businesses, AgBiome, does work with stinkbugs.
Credit Patrick Coin / Flickr/Creative Commons

The largest research park in North America sits in the middle of North Carolina.  And this week, one of Research Triangle Parks' largest tenants – GlaxoSmithKline – announced it’s laying off 900 employees.

The trend over the past decade shows a major shift away from relying on big multi-national companies with sprawling campuses in favor of smaller operations.

Research Triangle Park is home to 190 companies on its 7,000 acres. 47,000 people work there every day. GlaxoSmithKline alone has close to 5,000 employees on campus.

“People know of [RTP] as kind of the big global brands, everybody from the IMBs, to the GSKs, the Ciscos, the NetApps, the Syngentas, the Fidelitys," said Bob Geolas, President and CEO of the Research Triangle Foundation.

The changes in big companies, and the growth of small companies, the mergers, they are a part of the new reality.

But this might surprise you: more than two-thirds of the businesses in RTP have fewer than 25 employees.  Geolas says times are changing.  The changes in big companies, and the growth of small companies, the mergers, they are a part of the new reality.

“I think we really all need to get used to that being a reality in the marketplace in which we work,” said Geolas.

And the reality in Research Triangle Park today is a growing number of small to mid-size companies with both long and short leases as well as employees who want to live and shop closer to work.

Creating community

Bill Rohe is Director of UNC’s Center for Urban and Regional Studies and author of the book The Research Triangle, From Tobacco Road to Global Prominence. He says that the big challenge facing the park now is how to create a vibrant, interactive community.

Rohe says there are several projects in the works that look promising. In fact, with some of the larger industries moving out, it's opened up space for smaller companies to move in.

One of those newer companies is AgBiome. The company is located in one of the five IT-Life Science incubators in RTP.  The business started with six employees early last year, and now they’re up to 30, and growing. The atmosphere here is casual, jeans and lava lamps.  And the place has a lot of bugs, thousands of them.

Dan Tomso of AgBiome in RTP points out the 'stink bugs' inside their insect rearing chamber.
Credit Leoneda Inge

“These are insect rearing chambers. So we have in this case, these are stink bug eggs," said Dan Tomso, AgBiome's Chief Science Officer.

Tomso says the park has been good to AgBiome, placing them near industry leaders like Syngenta, Bayer CropScience and Monsanto.

“This is sort of, is the Silicon Valley of Ag-Biotech so we’re in a really great place to start a company like this," said Tomso.

Things are going so well that RTP officials are looking for a bigger space for the company.