New report recommends actions to position North Carolina as a leader in the new data economy

State must support education and entrepreneurs to be a data leader

CHAPEL HILL, NC – North Carolina has the brain power, the educational system, and the technology business sector that can propel it to the top in the emerging data economy, says a report published recently by the North Carolina Board of Science, Technology & Innovation. However, those assets must be nurtured through a focus on data education and literacy, support for data-focused startups, and a coordinated effort to present the state as a data leader.

The report, NC in the Next Tech Tsunami: Navigating the Data Economy, was produced in collaboration with the National Consortium for Data Science (NCDS), a public-private partnership to advance data science headquartered at RENCI, a University of North Carolina technology research institute. The NCDS also engaged students from UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School to conduct much of the research for the report.

“The data economy can generate new, high-paying jobs in all industries, in all jobs, and in all areas of the state,” said Anthony M. Copeland, North Carolina’s Secretary of Commerce. “We must ensure we have the educational and economic ecosystems in place to support these new jobs because diverse industries like manufacturing, agriculture, and healthcare all will require more sophisticated data skills from their employees.” 

How big of a deal is the data economy? The World Economic Forum declared it the “fourth industrial revolution” and the recruiting website Glassdoor ranked “data scientist” at number one among the top 25 jobs in the U.S. in 2016. Data science is not just for technology companies either, according to the report. North Carolina companies as varied as R. J. Reynolds Tobacco, Norfolk Southern Railroad, and General Electric use data for insights into customers, products, and operations.

The report describes the state’s tremendous educational data assets at the community college, undergraduate and graduate university levels. Many global companies providing tools for the data economy, including SAS, IBM, Inmar, and Red Hat, reside in North Carolina. Other leading companies in the state’s important life sciences sector, for example Quintiles and Biogen, and in the critical financial sector like Bank of America and Fidelity Investments, rely on data to compete.

The report offers recommendations that include elevating the data economy to the top of state economic development priorities, supporting data entrepreneurs and startup companies, and investing in data science education programs that range from data literacy programs in high school to certificate and degree programs to internships and graduate programs. The report also recommends promoting North Carolina as an “Open Data” state where data is used to improve government services and create smarter cities while protecting personal privacy.

“We have the pieces needed to make North Carolina’s role in data similar to the role Silicon Valley plays to the general technology sector,” said Shannon McKeen, director of business development for the NCDS. “Our challenge is to bring those assets together and show that they are part of a cohesive and comprehensive plan to support and grow our data economy.”

The initiative’s next step is to form a public/private working group to implement the recommendations. To view or download the report, click here.