Editor’s note: RTP Beat is a regular feature on Thursdays. One of the Triangle’s better-known spokespersons and networkers, Nic Heinke, is leaving his post as communications and government affairs coordinator at the N.C. Electronics and Information Technology Association (NCEITA) to attend law school in the fall.

“The reasons are purely personal,” Heinke says of his leaving NCEITA, the primary voice of the state’s IT industry. “I had sort of planned on working for two years and going back to law school. One reason I decided to work for a couple of years was to get experience with policy, government and legal issues that I might deal with in law school. It was quite an industry to work with…I feel like I learned a lot.”

Heinke, who is going to Georgetown University, will remain at NCEITA until July 31, working with his replacement, Chris McClure. Both Heinke and McClure have degrees in political science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where they also served in student government. Heinke, who also has a BA in economics, was student body president three years ago, and McClure, who graduated in May, was the president’s chief of staff two years ago.

Now preparing to take over where Heinke left off at NCEITA…handling the organization’s public policy initiatives, state and federal government relations, media relations and economic development initiatives…McClure faces a different set of challenges than his predecessor.

“When I came on two-and-a-half years ago, money was growing on trees,” Heinke says of the economic conditions at the time. McClure is not so lucky…but still optimistic.

“I’m looking forward to it…it’s an exciting time, and we face a lot of challenges,” he says. “The economy doesn’t look like in next six months it’s going to completely turn around. And with technology…that’s been hit so hard. It’s going to be interesting to work here with these companies and to advance them, which is the main goal.”

A team effort

While Heinke says two-and-a-half years is not long enough to fully develop some initiatives at NCEITA, which is based in Raleigh, he walks away feeling good about his accomplishments there. But they were not all individual feats.

“The thing I’ve enjoyed most is that we all work well as a team, helping each other,” Heinke says of his fellow staff. “It’s much more of a ‘We’ attitude. We’ve had some of big accomplishments.”

One of those that stick out in Heinke’s mind is a $250,000 federal earmark grant to fully equip a rural or underserved North Carolina elementary or middle school with educational technology. Heinke says the program started over a year ago, NCEITA got the money in January and is currently working to select the school to help.

Another area Heinke reflects upon, among many, is getting the technology community “more engaged” in the public policy sector. While big names like IBM, SAS and Cisco are well entrenched in such efforts, smaller companies were left behind.

“Up-and-coming companies didn’t engage or know how to engage with elected officials,” Heinke says. “NCEITA not only acts as lobbyist, but works in tandem with industry leaders to get them involved…that’s been done through committee meetings, trips, dinners, etc. I really feel like I’ve seen us go from an industry that is engaged very well to one that is engaged at an extraordinary level with policy.”

Engaging politicians in technology

On the other hand, one area Heinke does not feel he has had as much time to focus on at NCEITA is getting the public sector involved in technology. He wishes more elected officials could embrace technology, as have state officials Sen. Eric Reeves and Rep. Joe Tolson.

“Folks in government need to understand that technology is not buying a computer,” Heinke explains. “It is something that is integrated through business and economic development. We’re not there yet with the public sector, but we’re on our way. Progress is being made, and I hope work continues on.”

With McClure and the rest of the five-person staff under the leadership of NCEITA President Joan Myers, Heinke says he thinks the organization can continue growing, even as it has during tight economic times.

“Our national colleagues are losing members, but the majority of those we’re losing are ones from companies that don’t exist anymore,” Heinke says. “With Joan’s leadership, the board and staff, they’re completely committed to the organization and the industry. Given the economy we’re sitting in, I still feel very good about where they are.”

NCEITA: www.nceita.org