My wife and I moved to the Triangle from Los Angeles last fall. When I told coworkers and friends that we were coming here, most were dumbfounded by our decision.
To many people, L.A. is a mecca for creatives, including technology related fields. The thought of leaving a place where it's almost always sunny and where your 'uniqueness' is always validated is unheard of. I know only two other native Angelenos that have left, and they moved to San Francisco and Las Vegas, both only a five to six hour drive away.
L.A. is also its own microcosm. Only friends and co-workers that had experience with Research Triangle Park companies or the video game industry even knew about Raleigh-Durham as a place to do business.
I received multiple comments about how I was going to live with rednecks and yokels, complete with bad impressions of a southern drawl, that continued even months after arriving here. Details of my experience with how great a place the Triangle is, from my time stationed at Fort Bragg, mostly landed on deaf ears. As far as they were concerned, the only thing Raleigh-Durham had going for it was cheap real estate.
In the last year, just one of my California friends has visited. When I picked him up at the airport, the first thing he talked about was the way people smiled at him here. I explained to him that those were, in fact, genuine smiles that had no ulterior motives behind them - his initial contact with southern hospitality. It was the first in a series of positive culture shocks he experienced, culminating in a glowing review of the Triangle by the time he left.
Entrepreneurial publications are also starting to catch on to how the Triangle translates to good business. CNNMoney recently named Raleigh-Durham as one of the country's eight most business friendly cities. The article focuses on RTP and mentions Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill individually, instead of naming one as the top location.
This is how the outside world, including transplants from California, see our area - as three boroughs of a larger city.
Sadly, the one thing that sticks out to me about the Triangle business community is how furiously Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill work to separate themselves from one another. This forces RTP, the centerpiece of our town, to fend for itself - which it does quite well. It seems every borough wants to alone be the fulcrum of the state's technology business.
Here's the problem: nobody outside of the Triangle cares that Durham is rebranding itself as 'startup city' and that it has the most plentiful co-working space - or that Raleigh is metamorphosing its warehouse district into a bohemian business, arts, and restaurant destination - or that Chapel Hill is a fantastic place for research and development driven startup incubation.
No one cares that Bronto and Adzerk are in Durham, Red Hat and Citrix are in Raleigh, and iContact and ChannelAdvisor are in Morrisville. It's all the same place to them.
My L.A. commute was roughly an hour to go nine miles, each way, and I worked on the same street that I lived on. It takes me less time to drive all the way from one Triangle borough to another than the average commute takes in New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, or San Jose. I spend less time in my car, when driving from Cary to Fayetteville, than I did driving to a social event, on a weekend afternoon, back in California.
If we want our area to be the technology hub of the east, then we have to start viewing it from a national perspective.
In Silicon Valley, the Palo Alto business community doesn't stonewall Cupertino, Mountain View, and Santa Clara. Conferences and business events in the Triangle should be inter-borough, and be hosted as such (or centrally located at RTP). We should be playing upon each location's strengths, not infighting about each other's weaknesses.
I am one of the believers that, in the next decade, the Triangle can become the east coast's premier technology destination. I also believe the first step to achieving such a distinction is sharing a common vision.