The acerbic wit of Jim Goodnight can cut any and all, the great to the small, to pieces. And the SAS chief executive officer/billionaire programmer did that to UNC-Chapel Hill on Tuesday at an economic forum hosted by his alma mater N.C. State. 

The line was captured by The Triangle Business Journal’s Jason deBruyn:

“I was accepted both here and Carolina,” Goodnight said. “And thank God I came here, because they have real classes here.”

Those “real classes” are helping NCSU continue to be a driving force in economic and technological development across North Carolina, as Randy Woodson, NCSU’s chancellor since 2010, made clear in a series of remarks delivered during the course of the forum.

Innovation must be his middle name.

Look at where he is investing in 38 new faculty hires:

  • Bioinformatics
  • Data-Driven Science
  • Digital Transformation of Education
  • Environmental Health Science
  • Forensic Sciences
  • Genetic Engineering and Society
  • Geospatial Analytics
  • Global Environmental Change and Human Well-Being
  • Innovation + Design
  • Personalized Medicine
  • Synthetic and Systems Biology
  • Translational Regenerative Medicine

This is a powerful, future-focused commitment.

WRAL Tech Wire reports frequently about NCSU advances, from stretchable and self-healing wires to nanotechnology “flowers” for use in solar energy to boosting WiFi power. And much more …

“Transforming Economies: The Role of University Innovation in Economic Growth,” was the title for the event, and Woodson called for universities to find new ways to drive growth which in turn produces jobs. He used the new, high-tech James B. Hunt Jr. Library as the site for the forum – a fitting backdrop given Hunt’s role in driving technology and life science development during his four terms of office.

“America’s research universities are hubs of innovation,” Woodson said. “We are in a time that is challenging, but also brimming with opportunity. Now more than ever we need to continue our investments in innovation and discovery.”

NCSU made sure to spell out its own story.

“Innovation: This Is Our Work”

“Innovation: This Is Our Work,” State proclaims in a concise two-page document that highlights what the university has done and continues doing in that drive for innovation.

It makes for good reading.

Now any self-generated, self-promoting document is likely to contain hyperbole. So bear that in mind. But the accumulation of highlights coupled with the ever-increasing size and impact of the innovation-focused Centennial Campus, makes a good case that NCSU as a hub of innovation and jobs should never be taken for granted.

“Economic growth and strength depend on the ability to innovate,” the introduction reads. “For 125 years, North Carolina State University has been at the forefront of innovation — in our educational methods, in industry partnerships that drive discoveries to the marketplace, in research that improves lives.

“That’s why our students excel in the jobs of today and create the jobs of tomorrow. Our expertise attracts industry clusters to North Carolina. And our innovations transform entire economies.

“NC State thrives at this intersection of creativity and execution. Our collaborations with industry, government and other universities in the Research Triangle make us ideally suited to lead the innovation that will lift North Carolina — and the nation — to new levels of global competitiveness and economic prosperity.”

Woodson Makes His Points

In his remarks, Woodson pointed out example after example of NCSU’s leadership and the importance of innovation:

  • The innovation of Research Triangle Park planted the seeds for much of the innovation this region and this state enjoy.
  • Innovation is critical to the economic success and long-term competitiveness of our country.
  • American research universities are the hub of innovation in this country. As leaders we must drive home the importance of collaborating across disciplines and sectors as we reconceptualize what it means to innovate.
  • For 125 years, NC State has been at the forefront of innovation … in the strategies we use to educate and our approach to research that makes a difference.
  • We work collaboratively in a number of different areas to bring new technology to life,
  • Including strengthening the region’s leadership in big data…
  • And with our joint biomedical engineering program with UNC-Chapel Hill, where NC State engineers work closely with UNC doctors and medical personnel to improve health care for North Carolinians.
  • Our strengths in agriculture and textiles are also high-tech, leading to new advances in crop improvements and nonwoven fabrics.
  • Smart grid work through the FREEDM Center housed on Centennial Campus may be a game-changer in providing the “energy Internet” that will change the way utilities work.
  • NC State has launched more than 100 companies that have attracted more than $1.5 billion in investment capital to North Carolina … creating thousands of jobs.
  • The reality is that those jobs are going to be created somewhere. Those innovative companies will set up shop somewhere.
  • And we need to make sure that all happens here, in North Carolina. 
  • We have great examples of when it does.
  • Cree…. A market-leading innovator in LED lighting and semiconductors was built on innovations created here at NC State.
  • Xanofi is another example. They create nanofibers to improve the efficiency of solar panels, extend the life of oil filters, even provide scaffold for tissue regeneration.
  • ABB develops power and automation technologies that allow utility and industry customers to improve performance while lowering environmental impact.

Please note that Woodson did point out an effort he certainly supports – cooperation with UNC on biomedical engineering.

Woodson also noted that NCSU has a substantial impact on the local, regional and state economy – a very important fact in these tough economic and budgetary times.

“Every year NC State generates $1.7 billion in direct economic impact,” he said. His data shows that NCSU generates $8 for every $1 received in state funding.

“The importance of collaboration across disciplines within the university and across industry sectors outside the university is key to creating partnerships that will drive the economy,” he added.

RTP: A Shining Example

Do you need proof?

The growth of Research Triangle Park over the past 50 years with so much work done between the private sectors, government and universities is this state’s best example – and one of the best in the world – that the public-private model can work. Not all are detined to be boondoggles. 

Where would North Carolina be today without the Park? Headed for the dustbin of history.

As for Goodnight – well, Woodson made sure to acknowledge him. 

“Of course no discussion of university research spin-offs is complete without mentioning Dr. Goodnight and SAS – innovative leaders in business analytics,” he said.

“Innovation created here at NC State, now with customers in 135 different countries. Now that’s global impact.”

Too often, and sometimes with good reason, the media skewers universities for bureaucracy, teachers that don’t really teach, curriculum that deserves to be questioned, too much emphasis on sports, and simply being bloated. But not often enough does the media deliver kudos when they are deserved.

So here’s a tip of the hat to Chancellor Woodson for what he’s trying to achieve.  

(Note: The Skinny thanks NCSU’s Mick Kulikowski for helping track down Woodson’s key points.)