Note: The Skinny blog is written by Rick Smith, editor and co-founder of Local Tech Wire and business editor of

CARY, N.C. – “Connect. Innovate. Lead” is the theme for a two-day event beginning Thursday at SAS that will commemorate the 25th anniversary of a true North Carolina treasure.

The North Carolina Research and Education Network – or , the state’s K-20 network.

Even as the event gets underway, NCREN is waiting to hear whether the federal government will approve more than $20 million in funding for the network’s next stage of growth – a private-public plan to greatly expand broadband access across the state.

But today and Friday are for a time of reflection as well as discussions about how NCREN can be leveraged to help education and research from Manteo to Murphy, as the saying goes. ()

It’s difficult to believe that the Tar Heel state’s growth as a center for high-tech and life science companies would have taken place without the launch and growth of NCREN as one of the nation’s first and trend-setting high-speed data networks.

Launched as part of MCNC (Microelectronics Center of North Carolina, first funded in 1980), NCREN was a dream that became a reality – a means of linking universities, schools and other institutions in real time.

While we all today take the Internet for granted and use our mobile devices for just about everything from games to news to updating spreadsheets and watching TV, NCREN began to take shape before the Net exploded on the global scene in the early ‘90s.

Former Gov. Jim Hunt, a driving force behind the launch of so many high-tech initiatives such as the N.C. Biotech Center, MCNC and the School for Science and Math, is the keynote speaker at the NCREN event. And deservedly so.

As crucial as Research Triangle Park, RTI International and the state’s universities have been in the ongoing transition of North Carolina’s economy, the cluster of MCNC along with NCREN and the Biotech Center has also been extremely important.

In addition to Hunt, other key pioneers in the state’s high-tech strategy such as Jane Patterson will be on hand. Patterson, who served as a key Hunt advisor on all things tech, spearheaded efforts to build the state’s “Information Highway” when videoconferencing was nothing more than a buzz word. Patterson now leads e-NC, a state-backed effort initially funded by proceeds from MCNC asset sales, to spread broadband across the state.

NCREN also has been a key test bed for network development over the years even as it has grown to link all the major universities, many community colleges and key state institutions, plus the state’s schools.

So here’s a well-deserved tip of the hat from The Skinny to MCNC, NCREN and the many people who over the past 25 years have built the information highway over which rides so much of our state’s future.

Happy silver anniversary.

Imagine what the golden anniversary could commemorate.

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