Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Sherwood Smith, March 23, 1999. Interview I-0079. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Comparing Research Triangle Park and Global Transpark

Smith discusses the Global Transpark, an area in eastern North Carolina that companies are using to synthesize manufacturing and transportation of goods. He contrasts Global Transpark with Research Triangle Park: key differences include the fact that Global Transpark started without a great deal of nearby intellectual or physical infrastructure and that the enterprise is largely publicly funded.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Sherwood Smith, March 23, 1999. Interview I-0079. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JM: You’ve been involved in important ways in the Global Transpark idea. SS: Yes. JM: We have the model and the example of the RTP, on the one hand. [Now] we have this other [idea]. Its function would be different, of course. But maybe [you could] describe the effort that’s been underway to advance the notion of the Global Transpark and your role there. If you could, describe how that’s unfolded. That would be a very interesting story. SS: Yes. As you know, the Global Transpark is, first of all, an area located in eastern North Carolina north of Kinston. It encompasses about four hundred acres right there at the jetport, but [it includes] a much larger area, perhaps 15,000 acres. It’s related to an organization of thirteen counties in the eastern and southeastern part of North Carolina. They are known collectively as the Global Transpark Development Commission. The Global Transpark concept is that, at that location in eastern North Carolina, it’s desirable and it’s feasible to establish an intermodal -- that is land, surface, [and] water, because the ports are close by -- transportation network that will enable manufacturing and assembly and, just in time, delivery of products and goods and services. [This would] be a very feasible and important economic entity. Now this concept of intermodal transportation is one that’s been developing in this country, I suppose, since World War Two. A professor at the University of North Carolina, Dr. John Kasarda -- who now heads the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise -- had studied this concept and studied the state of North Carolina and probably articulated in 1990 to Governor Jim Martin the concept of the Global Transpark as concisely [and] as well as anybody. But, that was done at a time when North Carolina was still advancing in industrial growth. We were having a lot of new manufacturing jobs here. At the same time, agriculturally the eastern part of the state was declining in employment, so you had a population base there with the work ethic that could be trained. We have many people that leave the military in eastern North Carolina, that want to stay. So, you have a labor force there. You had a lot of land that was virtually undeveloped. Much of it had been used for farmland, that could be put to this. You didn’t have the problem of conflict with a lot of other land uses nearby. The state first appropriated money in 1991 to study the planning of the Global Transpark. Then in ’92, more money was appropriated. A master plan was done. It was announced the state has a Global Transpark Authority, which will own and manage the Park facilities right there. That’s what I was president of for several years recently. I was not the first president. I came into it several years after it having been started. I was pleased that I had the opportunity to work there, and there were a couple of particular activities that I was very glad to be involved with. [One was] the Development Commission of the thirteen counties. Then there is a private Global Transpark Foundation that’s chaired by former Governor Jim Martin, and there is president Felix Harvey, a very successful businessman and public-spirited citizen in Kinston that’s raised about eighteen million dollars to help support private development there at the Park. The major differences in what I’ve described, so far, between the Global Transpark and the Research Triangle Park are these: The Research Triangle Park was placed in an area where you already had the three universities. If you consider the universities, they were indispensable parts of the infrastructure. That was already in place. The Global Transpark was more of a freestanding concept in development. The infrastructure for the Global Transpark is basically an infrastructure of transportation. The highway network connecting the Global Transpark, first of all, to the major four lane highways -- Highway '70 and the interstates I-85 and I-40 -- was not in place and has been one of the major things that is being worked on. It has to be completed and put in place. Then, a long runway there which would enable the large 747 planes, fully loaded, to utilize it, had to be constructed. There was an existing airport there, but the runway had to be lengthened. Now, when the Global Transpark was announced, it was not then required by the Federal Aviation Administration to do an environmental impact statement for the expansion of the airport. It was anticipated by the planners that an environmental assessment would have to be done and should be done, but that’s a much shorter, more cursory process than a full blown environmental impact statement. But as time went by -- within about two years -- a federal court decision in the Midwest was handed down that required that environmental impact statements be done for airport expansions. That literally stopped work, in many senses. It was necessary to go back to the starting point and begin the process of getting an environmental impact statement. Neither an environmental assessment nor an environmental impact statement were required of the Research Triangle Park. When I’ve been out in the Research Triangle Park, I’ve thought about the comparison of the two projects [and thought that] if we’d had to do an environmental impact statement for Research Triangle Park, we never would have had it. We just wouldn’t have been able to complete it and get it through approval. The Global Transpark was announced by the governor and by the legislative supporters and others with a great deal of fanfare. I think this was probably appropriate because it was new. It was novel and [we needed] to get the attention of the public, so the public could decide and the legislature could decide whether to support it or not and go forward with it. Then, secondly, to attract the attention of businesses that might be tenants of the Transpark, that fanfare was very useful. But the fanfare also built up expectations in the minds of many that there would be immediate success. [People thought that] almost immediately following the announcement -- or a short period of time [thereafter] -- you’d see major industries flocking in there. Of course, things don’t happen that way. Even at the Research Triangle Park, [that did not happen]. I remember it was ’57 [or] ’58 when IBM was first contacted, and they did not come in with their facility until 1965. So, it’s going to take a lot of persistence and patience for the Global Transpark just as it did with the Research Triangle Park. But I think because of the public nature of the Global Transpark, it’s necessary to put more state money into it and to build the roads and to match the federal money for the airport sooner than it was at the same stage of the Research Triangle Park. In the minds of those government leaders in the legislature, it’s going to require more money sooner; therefore, it’s going to appear to be a more expensive project. The state probably has put twenty-five million dollars into the project today. There’s probably been another fifteen to seventeen million federal dollars put in -- large amounts of money. When you compare that to the North Carolina highway building program, those dollars are very small. It cost forty-two million dollars to build three or four miles of connector between Highway 40 and Highway 70 just west of the airport here. So, I think it’s important to view it as a transportation project. It’s a long- term project. It is a project that if that’s not done in Eastern North Carolina -- where we have many reasons to think it’s feasible to do it, if we have the patience -- then what should we do in that part of the state? Should we do anything? If so, what? The development of the medical school at East Carolina has shown that an investment in that part of the state can not only be successful, but that it can just be critical for the economic health and social health and viability of that part of the world.