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REGIONALREPORT Triangle

A new face at a familiar place

When Bob Geolas was a boy, his father took him to see construction at Research Triangle Park. They watched workers and cranes build massive complexes to house some of the world’s most iconic technology companies. Now the Research Triangle Foundation of North Carolina has tasked Geolas, 47, with recasting the park for a new generation of tech wunderkinds, naming him president and CEO in November. The N.C. State University alumnus has earned a reputation as a builder: At his alma mater’s Centennial Campus — which he led from 2000 to 2004 — he coordinated development of 1.5 million square feet of space. As executive director of the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research from 2004 until last year, he saw 760,000 square feet developed and 2,400 jobs created on its 250 acres in Greenville, S.C.

RTP has been pretty successful. Why does it need to change?
The leaders that will be making decisions for the next 30 to 50 years, they’re 45 and younger, and the traditional business culture doesn’t appeal to them. What young technology workers and leaders want is a little less corporate culture and a little more creative culture.

How do you provide that?
Highly collaborative physical spaces that bring people together. It has to be truly authentic — young people aren’t interested in being a part of the same old thing. There should also be places around this park — whether through science, technology, arts or culture — that really inspire you. And it needs to be accessible.

What do you mean by “accessible?”
We need to make it affordable. We need to rethink how we finance space and facilities. Our competition in China, they give space away to recruit the best minds and the best companies. But in our market, we can’t do that.

So how do you compete?
Become more flexible. You’re not going to see large corporate entities building big research and corporate headquarters. One, there’s a lot of vacant space in the world today. Two, because of the virtual world not everyone has to be in the same building. Our financing isn’t structured that way. We need anchor tenants for big spaces, a five-year lease is the minimum, 10-20 years is preferable. I want to challenge our financial industry in North Carolina to see if we can upend that. If we can, I think we have a huge competitive advantage.

How will you pay for all this construction?
Private-sector funds supplemented with some public-sector funds. You have to work it a bunch of different ways. You have to be creative. For example, there’s the new America Competes Act, which offers federal loan guarantees for research parks. Is that a tool we might use? Absolutely, it is.

But hasn’t raising money become more difficult due to the economy?
I won’t say it’s gotten easier. We want to rely on the private sector as much as we can because the public sector is so strapped. But the worst thing we can do is sit still.

So when does construction get under way?
I’m not going to give you a specific date. I’m going to say sooner rather than later. But we need to seize the moment. We need to move quickly.

Why?
If you’re not in that conversation, you’re dead to people. We’re still in that conversation. I want to make sure we lead the conversation.

 

$288 million

Refund Progress Energy Florida Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Raleigh-based Progress Energy Inc., has agreed to give Florida customers, repaying replacement-power costs incurred after the closing of its nuclear plant in Crystal River, Fla. — offline due to damage — that it passed on to consumers. Florida energy regulators must approve the deal.

 

 

Briefs

CHAPEL HILLBlue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina will partner with Missouri health insurer Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City to spin off billing, enrollment and claims-processing operations for small-group and individual plans. Employees for the new company, Topaz Shared Services, won’t be affected. About 650,000 of BCBSNC’s 3.7 million members will become Topaz accounts.

RALEIGH — Irving, Texas-based Archon Group, the real-estate arm of Goldman Sachs, bought six Triangle office properties for about $44 million from Indianapolis-based Duke Realty. Five are in Raleigh, and one is in Cary. They total about 427,000 square feet. Duke Realty still has more than 6.5 million square feet of office, warehouse and medical space in the Triangle.

MORRISVILLE — Shareholders of Tekelec approved the $780 million sale of the company to a group of investors led by New York private-equity firm Siris Capital Group. The deal is expected to close this quarter and its headquarters will remain here. Tekelec announced plans last year to lay off up to 20% of its workforce.

CARY — Swiss engineering firm ABB, which has its North American headquarters here, will acquire Memphis, Tenn.-based electric-components maker Thomas & Betts for $3.9 billion. Thomas & Betts, which specializes in low-voltage products, has about 40 employees at a Hickory plant, but they will not be affected. ABB employs about 1,600 in North Carolina.

MORRISVILLE Oxygen Biotherapeutics and Scottish biopharmaceutical company Aurum Biosciences Ltd. have inked a research agreement to help treat certain stroke patients. Researchers will use Aurum’s proprietary MRI technology that maps tissue in the brain to measure the effectiveness of Oxygen Biotherapeutics’ Oxycyte emulsion, which delivers oxygen to the brain.

MORRISVILLE — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the second generation of medical-technology company TearScience’s LipiFlow Thermal Pulsation System, which treats dry eye. The device lets doctors treat both of a patient’s eyes at the same time.

WAKE FOREST — Energy-services company PowerSecure International is on pace to add about 15 employees per month this year to its 536, a spokesman says. The company, which makes light-emitting diode bulbs, hired about 150 employees last year and attributed the growth to new business, including three recent orders of LED lights worth $15 million.

CHAPEL HILL Cempra raised about $48 million during its initial public offering, less than the roughly $86 million it hoped to raise. The pharmaceutical company, which has two antibiotics in clinical trials, has 15 employees. The stock is listed on the Nasdaq as CEMP.

DURHAM — Raleigh-based L Star Management and Charlotte-based Mountain Real Estate Capital purchased planned community Brightleaf at the Park for $8.5 million from an affiliate of Atlanta-based SunTrust Banks. Brightleaf, which SunTrust foreclosed on, is slated for 2,866 units. About 900 single-family and townhomes still must be built.

CHAPEL HILL Blue Heron Real Estate Opportunity Fund raised about $16 million from five investors. The real-estate fund is planning a mixed-use development in Fuquay-Varina.

DURHAM — Gaithersburg, Md.-based drug developer Cytomedix acquired Aldagen in a deal worth more than $40 million. The biotechnology company will operate as a wholly owned subsidiary and retain its 14 employees and local manufacturing operations. It will also continue to develop its stroke treatment. Three board members, including CEO Lyle Hohnke, will join Cytomedix’s board of directors. 
CLAYTON — Peoria, Ill.-based Caterpillar will expand its operations in Clayton, adding 199 jobs to its 450 and investing $33 million at the plant within five years. The factory will make small wheel loaders, and the heavy-equipment maker will establish a new engineering and test facility. The average annual wage for the jobs will be $41,466, higher than Johnston County’s average of $31,460.