An agency affiliated with the University of North Carolina system is teaming up with SAS for the design of an online, interactive map packed with a wide variety of information about the state and each of its 100 counties.

Supporters of the project say the “Global North Carolina Heat Map” will serve as an economic development tool. The UNC System’s Center for International Understanding worked with the software firm SAS on the project. SAS is a global leader in data analytics.

The map is being formally unveiled at a ceremony on the SAS campus Wednesday morning.

As a “heat map,” counties turn different shades of blue when searchers are looking for certain criteria such as population, university degrees, immigration trends, business imports and exports. The higher the county ranks in the state in each of statistical category, the brighter the blue.

Developers believe the map is the first of its kind for a state to develop.

“What’s unique is that we are putting all the data in one place, and we publish county by county,” said Adam Hartzell, executive director of the UNC center. “When you connect the data, it actually starts to tell a story.”

Counties ranked within the state

Relying on U.S. Census, IRS, state government and other sources, the Center assembled 53 data points for each county. Each county also is ranked 1 to 100 in every category.

For example, the map can be searched for the percentage of K-12 students taking foreign language courses. The search shows the top counties in that measure include Union (outside Charlotte) as well as Orange, Forsyth and Davie Counties.

The search can further be refined to search by the number of students taking a particular language, such as Chinese.

Simply by clicking on a county, its ranking in each of the 53 categories is listed.

“This map is a way to measure our progress unlike anything invented by any other state,” Hartzell said. “We hope it will grow and become even more robust and include more data points.

“I can see it even becoming a tool to market counties. For example: How does a county light up on the map from farming communities to Christmas trees to pharmaceuticals.”

Economic developers and business people looking for an employee base with particular strengths can now look at hard data from Manteo to Murphy. Hartzell also stressed that policy makers and leaders can review how their county is performing in various metrics and consider possible changes based on that data.

The map has been under development for about a year. SAS donated development costs. Triangle-based Quintiles, the world’s largest life sciences services firm, Local Government Federal Credit Union, and the Moise and Vera Khayrallah Fund of the Triangle Community Foundation provided financial support.

“We are so pleased to be able to partner with the Center for International Understanding on this important project,” said Ann Goodnight, the wife of SAS co-founder Jim Goodnight and an executive at the company who also is on the Center’s board of advisors, in a statement. “North Carolina moves forward when we all understand the importance of global engagement in preparing future leaders and creating jobs.”

No other source so complete

The heat map is a “first” in two ways, according to Stephanie Caplan, communications director for the Center.

“You can find the data from individual sources, but to our knowledge no one has put it in one place,” Caplan explained.

“To our knowledge, no state has done that or broken it down to the county level. That’s what is really different about it.”

The Center decided to create the map after receiving requests to create a single data source for education, business and demographic information.

“A common call from policy leaders is: ‘Can you help me make this information real to people,’” she explained. “Our organization works with education, business and government leaders. We are trying to help them see how they are globally engaged.

“We want people to increase their opportunities for international engagement because that is how North Carolina will move forward economically.”