RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – North Carolina still has a lot of work to do in growing its knowledge economy, in The Skinny’s humble point of view.

That conclusion is based on a review of data from the new Software & Information Industry Association report about the state of the U.S. knowledge economy. Despite North Carolina’s boasting about growth in the high tech sector, the Tar Heel state lags far behind its 10th ranking in population in the share of IT jobs as well as pay.

Virginia and Georgia are doing much better in both categories. Ouch.

Here are the numbers, based on federal government statistics as of 2006:

• Jobs: N.C. 16th with 63,959. Georgia, 10th with 95,616; Virginia fourth with 163,692.

• Salaries: N.C. 21st, $62,986; Georgia 15th, $72,467; Virginia fourth, $85.900.

Granted, the SIIA report does not provide a complete picture of the high tech sector since many biotech and life science jobs aren’t included since they are not software or IT related. But the number of IT jobs (just eight thousand more than South Carolina) doesn’t even equal military personnel based in the state.

And the salary figure is interesting. For all the talk about North Carolina attracting new business due to its quality of life, housing prices and cost of doing business, it’s obvious that Tar Heel salaries make the state appealing, too.

The state of Washington pays the best ($99,200) followed by Massachusetts ($97,900), California ($97,900) and Virginia.

If North Carolina’s leaders play their cards right in the high-tech recruiting game, however, the SIIA report indicates that there are many new jobs to be won.

Between 2006 and 2016, the SIIA forecasts an amazing growth in so-called knowledge worker jobs:

• Computer software engineers: 449,000 (up from 857,000)

• Systems analysts: 280,000 (up from 504,000)

• Support specialists: 242,000 (up from 552,000)

• Network systems and data communications analysts: 193,000 (up from 262,000)

• Network, computer systems administrators: 154,000 (up from 309,000)

• Programmers: 91,000 (up from 435,000)

• Database administrators: 47,000 (up from 119,000)

Those job forecast figures include many positions that are already filled but will open due to attrition and retirement.

The high tech jobs pie is getting bigger. Let’s hope North Carolina gets enough of those jobs to match its size in population – and improve base pay so those workers can enjoy our quality of life even more.

(Be sure to check out the conclusion of the SIIA report, which appears in LTW today in our Opinion section.)