RALEIGH – A report from the North Carolina Department of Commerce reported last week that ranked the state 21st for innovation likely understates its performance. Why? Because of a time lag in months and years of statistics used as the foundation for the report’s conclusions.

So says Dr. John Hardin, executive director of the Office of Science and Technology and Innovation, which is part of Commerce.

Rick Smith, WRAL TechWire’s editor and a cofounder and author of The Skinny blog.

The Skinny spoke with Hardin via email about the report and the likely impact of old data.

  • Given developments in North Carolina, especially in the tech sector since 2016-2017, could data cited in the report be more positive and thus NC’s standing might be better than this compilation of data indicates?

Yes. As noted in the report’s introduction, the typical over-time period assessed in this report ranges from 2000 to the most recent year(s) for which current data are available, most often 2016, 2017, and 2018.

NC Department of Commerce

Dr. John Hardin

For virtually all the indicators, there is a one- to three-year lag time between the current year (2019) and the most recent year for which data are available at the time of the report’s release.

If the report were to include more data for 2018 and 2019, the positive developments in NC’s standing would likely be even better.

It’s also important to keep in mind that the rankings are for the state overall, not just the small number of much-acclaimed, very well-performing regions such as the Research Triangle or Charlotte.

Additionally, the state-level indicators are expressed as ratios or percentages, which “normalizes” the data by controlling for “size” factors such as state population and Gross Domestic Product (GDP), causing larger states like North Carolina (which has higher-than-average population and GDP) to rank lower than expected based only on their size.

The report isn’t measuring size; it is measuring “pound-for-pound” performance.

  • North Carolina has improved since 2000 as the report shows – so do trends/news of last couple of years give you a more optimistic view of what’s to come?

Yes. The trend line for most of the indicators suggest that the improvements will continue. However, as noted in the report, those improvements tend to be concentrated more in counties that are highly populated and/or are home to major research universities.

Report: NC moves up 2 spots among states to rank 21st for innovation

  • If you saw the WRAL TechWire story we did from SmartAsset on Currituck as best place to start a career, that seems to indicate at least some rural counties offer potential for growth even if they aren’t tech/higher education. Reason for hope?

The report’s county level data indicate that North Carolina is a tale of two innovation economies:

  1. One economy is based primarily in our more research-intensive areas, which have large populations that are growing rapidly and that have economic and innovation assets, activities, and outcomes well above the U.S. average
  2. The other is based largely in less developed areas, which have much smaller populations that are stable or shrinking and that have economic outcomes well below the U.S. average.

But it is also true that all communities have unique innovation assets they can use to give them a competitive advantage for building and growing a vibrant economy. And while certain communities have a strong and diverse set of assets to start with, which gives them a head start, other communities also offer potential for growth.

The communities with the most potential are those that determine what their innovation assets are, develop a plan for maximizing them, and then execute on that plan. Achieving growth takes resources, effort, and time.

  • Could more bandwidth drive jobs/development outside metro/higher ed clusters?

In today’s economy, access to the Internet helps level the playing field. While greater bandwidth by itself won’t ensure jobs and development outside the metro and higher-ed clusters, it is a key tool for connecting non-metro areas with the larger economy and helping them to grow.

We should do what we can to ensure that every North Carolinian has access to affordable high-speed Internet service.

FCC broadband plan could mean faster acccess for 169,000 NC households, businesses