orth Carolina's Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill tri-city area has managed to attract more Asian PhDs than any area with ten times the population. The migration began in the early 1960s when hundreds of graduate students, mostly Koreans, were lured each year by the abundance of high-tech, high-wage jobs at Durham's Research Triangle Park which, at last count houses 65 high-tech companies' basic research laboratories. A large percentage of the students ended up staying to raise families. The career opportunities presented by specialized research positions and the benefits of a safe, clean, uncrowded lifestyle, they have found, are too good to leave behind.
Like others in the first wave of Asians to settle in the area, Park never planned to settle in Durham. He came as a graduate student in 1959, and after completing his PhD at NCSU, he chose to remain temporarily. The Korean War had devastated South Korea's economy, and its businesses and institutions were too financially strapped to hire a research scientist. He found the opposite to be true in Durham. He applied for work at five institutions, and all offered him jobs. He accepted a staff position at NCSU, flew his wife out and started a family.
"We thought it would be temporary," says Park, "but I got more involved in my work here, and our children began to grow up, so we gradually decided it might be best to stay in America."
Other Asian graduate students tell similar stories. Completing their studies, they found research positions and brought their families to the Durham area. Family members, in turn, invited their relatives and in-laws. By 1975 a swift stream of Korean immigrants was channeled into North Carolina. They worked in the state's textile, furniture and tobacco industries, saved their earnings and started businesses. Many were successful.
After arriving in Durham in 1978, one Korean entrepreneur, who requested anonymity, landed a job with a textiles firm and eventually became a fabrics purchaser. By 1982 he had saved and borrowed enough to start a men's clothing shop. His business has bloomed into a 10-store chain, with locations throughout North Carolina and Virginia.
"I feel really uncomfortable talking about this now," the entrepreneur says. "We're going through an expansion phase. In two years I'll be able to gauge if it's been a success or not." Regardless of the fate of his particular venture, there's little question that the Asians in Raleigh-Durham have succeeded in establishing a strong and attractive presence. Page 7