Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Triangle: RTP’s turning point

It’s hard to imagine a more influential board in North Carolina than the group running the Research Triangle Foundation, which oversees the world-famous research park. Members include Duke University’s Richard Brodhead, UNC Chapel Hill’s Carol Folt and N.C. State’s Randy Woodson mixed with Bob Winston, Smedes York and other Triangle business leaders.

But powerful people can be the most demanding, so perhaps it isn’t surprising that Bob Geolas is out after five years leading RTP. The group announced his resignation on Sept. 14 for reasons that remained unclear at press time.

While RTP created North Carolina’s reputation as a tech hot spot, much of the industry’s growth in recent years has occurred in downtown Raleigh, where Red Hat and Citrix have enlivened the center city, and in downtown Durham at the startup-friendly American Underground campus.

Asked about RTP’s key achievements in recent years, interim CEO Liz Rooks says, “We’ve been reconnecting with our university partners and we’re looking at how RTP can help generate economic development throughout the state.” That’s not as specific as Geolas’ LinkedIn page, which notes RTP added 21 companies, 800 jobs and $1 billion in investment during his tenure.

The statement announcing Geolas’ departure noted his efforts to shift RTP from a focus on selling property to multinational companies — big employers include Bayer, Cisco Systems and GlaxoSmithKline — to developing space for entrepreneurs and small businesses.

Geolas, who graduated from N.C. State in 1988, had emphasized that the 57-year-old park needs a refresh to appeal to younger, tech-savvy workers. A former senior economic developer at N.C. State and Clemson University before joining RTP, he was paid about $370,000 a year, while Rooks received about $240,000 as chief operational officer, according to the foundation’s 2011-13 financial statements.

To create an urban feel in the 7,000-acre park, RTP pulled together $50 million, including $20 million from Durham County, $10 million from the group’s special tax district and $20 million from the foundation. The 2013 financial statement showed the group had about $49 million in securities holdings.

Construction of new roads and utilities is expected to start next spring as a first phase of a 100-acre redevelopment, Rooks says. No timetable is set for a 250,000-square-foot retail center and multifamily housing. The park spent $1.4 million on a planning consultant in 2011 and $500,000 in 2013, statements show.

Rooks focused on planning during a 26-year career at RTP that ended last year. The board brought her back as interim CEO while deciding on its next step.  She’s only the fourth chief at the group in the last 28 years: Jim Roberson was in charge from 1988-2004, followed by Rick Weddle from 2004-11.

RTP has great advantages as a residential site given its proximity to Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, Rooks says. Living close to the office may lessen the traffic congestion that she calls “one of the downsides of [RTP’s] success.”

Chief Executive Officer Stephen  Wiehe and six other senior leaders at SciQuest left the Morrisville-based tech company  two months after private-equity group Accel-KKR took the company private for about $509 million. Wiehe, 52, had led SciQuest since 2001. New CEO Robert Bonavito, above, was chairman of The Woodlands, Texas-based On Center Software, which focuses on the construction industry. PE firms often install their own teams after acquisitions. Leaders of SciQuest’s technology, human resources, marketing, legal and customer operations teams were replaced. Accel-KKR paid $17.75 per share for SciQuest, which went public for about $12 in 2010.

DURHAM — Endowments at the University of North Carolina system and Duke University declined during the fiscal year ending June 30. Duke’s assets dipped 2.8% to $6.8 billion; UNC’s fell 2% to $4.5 billion. Annualized gains over the last five years have averaged 7% at both funds.

RALEIGH — Highwoods Properties paid $78.4 million for the 11-story Charter Square building and expects to spend an additional $5 million on improvements. The 243,000-square-foot downtown tower, which opened in June 2015, is 70% leased. Charter Square’s previous owners included Dominion Realty Partners.

 RALEIGH — KEEPS, a software company based here that sells to car dealerships, raised $8 million in equity from unnamed sources. The company plans to use the proceeds to acquire a Dallas-based software company. Ray Branch formed the business 20 years ago. KEEPS has more than 400 customers.

 RALEIGH — Advance Auto Parts named Thomas Okray chief financial officer, replacing Mike Norona. Okray has previously worked for Amazon and General Motors. Advance’s operations headquarters are based here.

CHAPEL HILL — Wegman’s, a Rochester, N.Y.-based supermarket chain, confirmed plans for a 120,000-square-foot store in Chapel Hill as part of a $30 million development by Dallas-based Leon Capital Group. Wegman’s, which is family owned, has also said it will build a store near Cary Towne Center mall and is considering Raleigh sites.

David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg is editor of Business North Carolina. Reach him at

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