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RALEIGH, N.C. – Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty told a North Carolina crowd that public schools and higher education nationwide must adapt to the "radical decentralization" of information caused by technology.

The 25th annual kicked off in Raleigh on Monday with this year’s focus on how society can enhance creative thinking and embrace new ideas.

The two-term GOP governor said the ability for anyone to access news, take classes and perform other tasks from a computer or phone is already changing dramatically how the world learns. He said public education must be willing to offer more classes online and embrace curricula that works elsewhere.

A sell-out crowd gathered for the event today and continues Tuesday at N.C. State.

It’s title: “Creativity, inc.”

The forum hosted by North Carolina State University, the Institute for Emerging Issues and former Gov. Jim Hunt annually brings together public policy leaders to discuss looming challenges.

Public schools and higher education nationwide must adapt to the “radical decentralization” of information caused by technology, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty told a North Carolina crowd Monday, but cautioned against believing the public sector will lead the reformation.

“It will not come from the government, who is on cutting edge of obsolescence of technology,” the Republican said while giving the keynote address to 25th annual Emerging Issues Forum in Raleigh. “It will come because technology will leapfrog so many of the current monopolies in ways that we and they don’t even see coming.”

Pawlenty, a two-term governor often mentioned as a potential presidential candidate for 2012, talked to hundreds of state corporate leaders, politicians and other notables gathered for a day and a half to discuss how to bolster creativity throughout the state.

Technology has allowed anyone worldwide with a cell phone or computer to access knowledge easily, compared to a generation ago when media outlets or government were more likely to command where it could be accessed, Pawlenty said. So the U.S. and every state must find an advantage to separate it from the rest of the world and become the driver to create high-paying jobs.

As a state of five million people with a high cost of living — including high taxes, Pawlenty said he’s trying to lower — Minnesota has focused on education.

Minnesota is near the top of states in the percentage of residents with a high school diploma and among the leaders in adults with at least a bachelor’s degree.

“If we’re not going to be the biggest and we’re not going to be the cheapest, then we’ve got to be the smartest,” he said. “Whether it’s technology, science, business, you’ve got to have highly skilled and trained and innovative, collaborative people.”

Pawlenty said public education nationwide must foster a more accessible learning environment, like offering more college and high school classes online. Pawlenty said Minnesota’s state universities must offer 25 percent of their courses online by 2015, and he praised University of North Carolina system President Erskine Bowles for his commitment to moving more classes to the Internet.

Pawlenty said customized learning for K-12 education also needs to be embraced, despite some push back from an outdated bureaucratic public school system developed from the 1940s that is still operating in a world where classes will soon be watched on iPod-like viewers.

North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue told participants later Monday that her administation was fostering innovation and an economy that rewards creativity. Perdue’s application for up to $400 million in federal education reform grants would create a climate of classroom creativity through the use of technology.

A state Commerce Department program aims to help 2,000 small businesses this year stay viable by shepherding them on matters of credit, cash management and controlling expenses. She also wants the General Assembly to approve a tax credit for North Carolina companies that create jobs in the state.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, speaking by video conference because he couldn’t fly in from snow-covered Washington, said the Obama administration wants to provide money to broaden school curricula beyond the basic skills so that students can tap into their creativity. That will help lower the dropout rate because they’ll want to stay in school, he said.

“We have to make sure that children are getting a well-rounded education if we’re serious about them fullfilling their great, great potential,” Duncan said.

He told reporters afterward at the Raleigh Convention Center that Republican principles of freedom also create an environment where people can think different and act differently and thus be creative.

“The more you have in my view government bureaucracy suffocate or stifle individual initiative, individual entrepreneurial spirit, individual responsibility, the less likely you are to have creativity or ingenuity,” he said.

Pawlenty already had announced he won’t seek a third term as governor this year but said he could end up in the private sector instead of seeking the Republican presidential nomination. He spoke to GOP activists in Alabama last Friday and also will visit Missouri and Nevada this month.

“I genuinely just don’t know what I’m going to do after I’m done being governor,” he said.

Among the other presenters was John Denniston, a partner with Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. He discussed “Ideas That Pay” in an afternoon address Monday. Steve Nelson, managing director of the N.C. venture capital firm The Wakefield Group, introduced Denniston. Nelson recently was named to help lead the Innovation Council formed by Gov. Bev Perdue.

On Tuesday, Aneesh Chopra, chief technology officer for the Obama administration, will lead a discussion about “Whose Big Idea?” Panelists include Michael Tiemann, vice president of open source affairs at Red Hat, and Mark Dean, vice president of technical strategy and world wide operations for IBM along with Michael Linksvayer, vice president of Creative Commons.

Organizers say this year’s focus on creativity aims at making it the foundation for how North Carolina lives, works and plays.

A series of presentations Monday afternoon cover a broad range of topics ranging from biotechnology to regenerative medicine.

The program included:

  • Collaboration in building infrastructure to support large regional economies (Speaker: Pat McCrory, Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives, Moore & Van Allen)
  • Utilize agricultural biotechnology to reinvigorate existing crops (Speaker: Steve Troxler, North Carolina Agriculture Commissioner)
  • Smart systems for buildings to reduce the overall consumption of resources
  • Innovative financial tools to bring renewable energy to market (Speaker: Janet Cowell, North Carolina State Treasurer)
  • Teach young people the importance of entrepreneurship through artistic apprenticeships (Speaker: Linda Carlisle, Secretary, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources)
  • Combine resources of political jurisdictions to develop intermodal transportation hubs
  • Apply technology and social networking to social and community problems (Speaker: Tim Will, Executive Director, Foothills Connect)
  • Provide manufacturers with a workforce trained in design
  • Fund business development and recruitment across political boundaries (Speaker: John Bardo, Chancellor, Western Carolina University)
  • Wider adoption of regenerative medicine techniques (Speaker: Tony Atala, Institute of Regnerative Medicine, Wake Forest University Medical School)