Tech giant Apple announced Monday that it plans to invest over $1 billion in a campus and engineering hub in the Research Triangle — and those in the UNC and Chapel Hill communities are preparing for what that could mean to the area.
Local tech jobs
The investment will bring at least 3,000 jobs to the area, as well as a $100 million fund to support local schools and community initiatives. Kevin Jeffay, the chairperson of the computer science department at UNC, said the announcement continues the trend of large companies opening facilities in the Triangle to recruit from the surrounding universities.
“Companies, like in the financial services sector, have been putting down data centers in RTP, and providing really good high-quality jobs,” Jeffay said. “And, we've seen over the years graduates preferring to take those jobs and stay local, rather than, for example, heading out to California.”
Jamie McCall, the vice president of policy and research at the Carolina Small Business Development Fund, said one of the Triangle's benefits to Apple is its proximity to UNC, Duke University and North Carolina State University — as well as several historically Black colleges and universities with strong technology programs.
“One of the biggest concerns for companies like Apple, with these large facilities with concentrations of employees that have to be highly skilled and highly educated, is getting them,” McCall said. “Having three research institutions here essentially guarantees the Apple workforce pipeline.”
Departments at UNC
Students like Neil Pierre-Louis, a sophomore majoring in computer science and statistics at UNC, are excited about the possibilities that come with the new campus and RTP’s growth.
“There's a lot of programs and groups here with the department and some clubs that have done some stuff with Google, Cisco and some other companies,” Pierre-Louis said. “So, I think it'd be cool if they could collaborate with Apple.”
But the announcement from Apple, as well as a similar one from Google in March, comes as UNC’s computer science department continues to experience struggles with faculty hiring and overcrowded classes.
Earlier this month, the department prematurely announced that it was planning to implement an admissions-based system in order to decrease the number of students pursuing the major — but the announcement was retracted less than 24 hours later.
“We're having to cut our program at the same time companies are making massive, I mean truly massive, investments,” Jeffay said. “And yet, there's been no investment in the department here.”
Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said Apple’s announcement aligns with the launch of UNC’s data science initiative. Few details have been released yet, but Jeffay said it includes a proposal for a school of data science.
“Carolina has created an environment where innovation can thrive, and we are proud of the foundation we have developed in our region for this type of investment,” Guskiewicz said in a statement. “This is a huge win for our region and the state of North Carolina and I’m looking forward to the opportunities this provides our students and faculty researchers for years to come.”
Cost of living
The Apple announcement also brought up community concerns about the cost of living in the area, which has already been on the rise in recent years.
“It can tend to increase housing prices, drive the demand for housing up in a region that already is, in terms of the state, an above-average region in terms of housing prices,” Jonathan Morgan, a professor in the UNC School of Government, said. “There are concerns about infrastructure, housing, transportation. You get more people – that means more vehicles on the highways.”
Increased housing costs are particularly a concern for Triangle residents like first-year Sneha Pasupula, who grew up in the area.
Pasupula said she is concerned about the financial effects making their way to Chapel Hill, especially if young professionals or more out-of-state students come to the town for its proximity to the Apple campus.
“I think that this will be a great path for students to be able to find mentorships within this campus and future internships and jobs,” she said. “I know the cost of living in Chapel Hill is already increasing, and I do worry that, with the building of this campus in the Research Triangle area, that there could be gentrification happening within Chapel Hill.”
Apple’s investment was the result of nearly $1 billion worth of incentives over about 40 years from North Carolina state and local governments. McCall said North Carolina has done a good job ensuring that the benchmarks needed to receive those incentives are actually met.
“Balance, I think, is what comes to mind in these sorts of projects,” McCall said. “It is going to be a transformative economic opportunity, but it really requires the UNC System, the universities, state and local government, community organizations to throw the responsibility on the other side, to make sure that the benefits are something that everybody can enjoy.”
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