Related story – “An Emerging Issue for NC: Reactive vs. Proactive Leadership”: People pondering the current state of North Carolina’s economy and hopes for growth in the future will get plenty of ideas, advice, suggestions and maybe even a criticism or two at the Emerging Issues Forum.

“We are bringing in outsiders to stimulate our thinking and to let people here ask tough questions,” says Noah Pickus, director of the Institute for Emerging Issues, which is putting on the two-day event at NCSU’s McKimmon Center.

If the state — government, industry and educational institutes — don’t join forces to address the state’s needs, Pickus warns that, “We’re going to find ourselves behind when the economy does pick up — and behind badly.”

The economic downturn has hammered North Carolina. “We’re in a depression,” is how one state senator described the situation at another economic forum on Friday. Government faces a $2 billion deficit. The high-tech slowdown has hit high-paying stalwarts such as Nortel, IBM, Cisco, Alcatel and others hard. And industries such as manufacturing, tobacco, furniture and textiles continue to sag.

Pickus and former Gov. Jim Hunt put together an agenda that they believe is filled with speakers who know how to turn around sagging economies or companies. The theme for the event reflects that goal: “Jump-starting Innovation: Government, Universities and Entrepreneurs.”

Louis Gerstner Jr., former chairman of IBM, kicks off the forum with a keynote speech Monday morning based on his new book, “Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance? Creating a Culture for Innovation.”

Mary Harney, Ireland’s deputy prime minister and minister for enterprise and trade, will discuss that country’s effort to build a software industry.

“They cut taxes, made regulation fore corporate friendly, and made strategic investments,” Pickus says. “That’s what the new economy is supposed to be — not the old notions or right and left. Did you know that Ireland is the leading exporter of software to Europe now?

“A lot of people say Ireland looks like North Carolina did 20 years ago.”

The title of her address reflects Ireland’s aggressive attitude: “The Celtic Tiger: Ireland’s Technology Revolution.”

Pickus and Hunt also are bringing in speakers from other states, such as Georgia and Michigan, to discuss what’s happening elsewhere in the homeland. For example, former Michigan Gov. John Engler will discuss the decision there to invest annually $50 million of tobacco settlement money in biotech as well as the revitalization of Michigan’s economy.

“It’s not just about what Georgia and others are doing,” Pickus explains. “It’s about legislation that passes tomorrow. It’s about the next 20 years.”

Richard Florida, author of “The Rise of the Creative Class,” also will speak.

Another panel will discuss the role of higher education institutions in economic development. Others will discuss rural area recovery and clusters for innovation.

For a complete schedule and list of speakers, go to: