I originally came from South Carolina. I was the fifth woman in the Clemson University Master of Architecture program. I worked a few years in South Carolina and really realized how unfriendly South Carolina was to female business people in the late '70s early '80s. After I became pregnant, my husband and I said 'let's leave.'
We researched towns all over the Southeast, and we landed on Raleigh. One reason we landed here was that they have an astronomical school system and they are very near Research Triangle Park. The intellectual capital is really up there.
North Carolina was very friendly to women business owners; a lot of people have moved into North Carolina, and so the perception of women was very much more sophisticated than you might find in other areas of the South at that time.
My practice started as 100 health care -- we designed hospitals. We launched in 1994 with five employees.
After a few years, I broke into the academic medicine field, grew that into laboratory work, and then grew that into museum work. We want to do work that helps mankind, the next generation, and revolves around healing, learning, and discovery.
In the '80s, I designed million-dollar homes, and I was not passionate about designing homes that aim to be better than their next door neighbor: I wanted my architecture to have meaning, and more long-term impact. And it is fun working with the brilliant people you get to work with in education and health care.
Now we have 35 employees, but we have been as large as 43 before the economy started taking a nosedive. The design industry was pretty hard hit. But if we are recruiting from outside the Triangle, we don't even have to talk about the commerce: all we need to do is show them the location - two to three hours from the beach, three hours from the mountains, and we are surrounded by lakes. -Catherine Clifford
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