(Editor’s Note: Karl Rectanus is an educator and social entrepreneur. He advises organizations on education innovation and policy, and recently co-founded Lea(R)n to change the way the world learns.)

RALEIGH, N.C. – What if I told you North Carolina is primed to lead a $90 billion industry critical to every human?

Odds are it’s a space you already care about deeply, use almost every day, and don’t know that others are watching to see if North Carolina will lead.

It is education and the technology that drives it (EdTech) – and it is the 21st century differentiator.

As the pace of innovation continues to accelerate, our ability to rapidly gain, share, analyze and utilize new information will determine our success. Without learning, we are lost.

North Carolina is primed to be the beating heart for the world’s learning in the 21st Century. We can set the pulse for this vital human need. Our goal should be nothing less.

And here in North Carolina, we are primed to lead. It’s been in our blood for a long time; like a heartbeat, innovating education has been a constant and will only grow louder. North Carolina visionaries made the first public university, the Research Triangle Park, and our current community college system objects of envy and models for emulation for others.

Our education systems and hundreds of community institutions across all 100 counties now share the same statewide broadband backbone on the North Carolina Research and Education Network – a huge competitive advantage the state should maximize this century. And, our innovation in pharmaceuticals, research, military, and technology are leading to significant growth, not just in intellectual property but also in new knowledge about learning that can impact the world.

Clinical trials for education technology

When the White House, U.S. Department of Education, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and countless educators lament the lack of an objective way to tell which learning tools were best for students and teachers, my co-founder and I launched a way to drive “clinical trials for education technology.” Because knowing which tools are leading to learning in (and out of) the classroom, and how to make them better, deserves more than anecdotes.

We’ve done this in a way to honor educators’ expertise in the classroom, help superintendents make better decisions with public funds, and take advantage of proven research models honed over decades by a trusted industry. And, we based it here in North Carolina – not for the basketball and barbecue, but because North Carolina has extensive expertise in clinical trials, willing and innovative educators, and tons of talent to grow.

We’re not the only ones

Our state’s history has given rise to established leaders in education innovation; leaders like SchoolDude, SAS Curriculum Pathways, MetaMetrics and ThinkGate, for examples. Not only are education systems investing in blended learning, Massive Open Online Courses (Moocs) and NC Virtual Public Schools, but individual universities and local entrepreneurship communities are helping new companies grow here, too.

These established companies, along with a vibrant group of early-stage companies now are attacking big challenges in North Carolina. They have made it clear to investors that the education market isn’t one to be afraid of – North Carolina understands it, has been leading it, and it’s time we set the pace moving ahead.

I recently spoke with a friend and senior official at the U.S. Department of Education who told me there are only three or four other places around the country who could take the mantle on leading this market right now. I’ve talked to leaders in many of those communities, and they are hungry. While they don’t have the pieces we have, they are trying to build them. Now is the time for North Carolina to outpace the competition.

So, when you think about North Carolina’s growth and opportunities to impact industries like biotech, clean energy, advanced manufacturing and health care, don’t forget learning technology and the global impact permeating every person, industry and geography.

North Carolina can and should be the beating heart of learning in the 21st Century.