As billions of devices become linked to the Internet of Things and people as well as governments and companies generate terabytes of data daily, the “data economy” is flourishing. But how can North Carolina capitalize on this tech opportunity?

A new report, which took more than a year to assemble and includes input from “hundreds of public/private data economy leaders and professionals,” outlines several recommendations for how the state can benefit most from what the authors note has has been called the “fourth industrial revolution” by the World Economic Forum.

The North Carolina Board of Science, Technology & Innovation, which is part of the state’s Department of Commerce, partnered with National Consortium for Data Science, a public/private collaboration housed at the UNC Chapel Hill Renaissance Computing Institute, to produce the report “Next Tech Tsunami: Navigating the Data Economy.” While noting that the state’s tech and life science sectors offer substantial assets the report found that “data professionals rank the state about 12th in the country for data economy leadership.”

“A technology tsunami is washing over businesses, institutions, and people worldwide. Massive amounts of data have coalesced into a wave of change,” the authors point out.

“Every day, routine actions by people and machines generate floods of data: smart phones communicate, sensors detect, robots manufacture, banks network, cameras surveil—just to name a few. Humans have created more data in the past two years than in the entire history of the world.

“In the face of this storm, North Carolina has a choice. It can either actively pursue the data economy toward increased economic prosperity, or be swept away by the economic rip currents. The choice is sink or swim; this report advocates for action. North Carolina must act now, in strategic ways, to maintain and enhance its stature as a leader in the data economy.”

Proposing next steps

Specific recommendations as spelled out as requirements for North Carolina to become a “top state” include:

  • Elevate the data economy to the top tier of economic development priorities.
  • Grow and support the data science startup ecosystem across the state, and promote it nationally.
  • Create a pipeline of data science education and data literacy, K-20+.
  • Position North Carolina as the “Open Data” state.
  • Support world-class data science research in North Carolina.

The data economy is no myth, either. The report notes that there is growing demand for data professionals, that tech-related jobs pay much higher than those in non-tech, and that tech skills are very much in need across traditional economic sectors (manufacturing, agriculture) which remain very substantial contributors to the North Carolina economy.

Data opportunities

Among the reasons the report cites as why N.C. needs to pay more attention to data are:

  • Fast Growth in a slow-growth economy: global data economy revenues are expected to increase over 50 percent to $187 billion in 2019.3
  • Extreme Need for Talent: over 9,000 postings for database administrators nationwide.
  • High Wages:
  1. • North Carolina technology wages: $115,239.
  2. • North Carolina average wages: $43,000.
  • Strengthen Companies by making other North Carolina industries more competitive:
  1. • Manufacturing ranks as the third largest industry needing data professionals.
  2. • Retail ranks fourth.
  • Improved Rural Economies: agriculture and forestry industries are rapidly utilizing crop data analytics, sensors, drones, artificial intelligence, and robots.

NC’s strengths

The report points out North Carolina’s foundations from which to step up a data economy effort. Those include:

1. Large Number of Marquee Data Companies:

• Data Science: SAS, IBM, Red Hat, Cisco, Inmar, Tresata.

• Data Intensive: Quintiles, MetLife, PPD.

• Data Enabled: Bank of America, BB&T, Fidelity Investments, Credit Suisse, Deutsch Bank.

2. World Class Universities:

Duke University, Wake Forest University, UNC-Chapel Hill, North Carolina State, UNCCharlotte, and many more.

3. Large Numbers of Relevant Professionals: Nearly 140,000.

4. Vibrant Entrepreneurial Environment:

• $1.24 billion in total startup funding.

• One of nine Google Hubs in the U.S.

• Ninth ranked state in venture capital.

But the authors say greater coordination is required to capitalize on those strengths.

“Although North Carolina has tremendous data assets, we need to focus our efforts on connecting and branding them,” says Scott Doron, project leader and Associate Director of the Office of Science, Technology, & Innovation.

Anthony Copeland, recently named Secretary of Commerce, adds: “The data economy can generate new, high-paying jobs in all industries, in all jobs, and in all areas of the state. We must ensure we have the educational and economic ecosystems in place to support these new jobs because diverse industries like manufacturing, agriculture, and healthcare all will require more sophisticated data skills from their employees.”

Read the full report at: