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North Carolina has the brain power, the educational system, and the technology business sector that can propel it to the top in the emerging data economy, says a report published recently by the North Carolina Board of Science, Technology & Innovation, part of the NC Department of Commerce. However, those assets must be nurtured through a focus on data education and literacy, support for data-focused startups, and a coordinated effort to present the state as a data leader.

The report, NC in the Next Tech Tsunami: Navigating the Data Economy, was produced in collaboration with the National Consortium for Data Science (NCDS), a public-private partnership to advance data science based in Chapel Hill.

In case you’re wondering, the data economy is a really big deal. The World Economic Forum declared it the “fourth industrial revolution” and the recruiting website Glassdoor ranked “data scientist” at number one among the top 25 jobs in the U.S. in 2016. Revenues from the global data economy are expected to grow to about $187 billion in the next two years, an increase of more than 50 percent, according to IDC.[1] Data science is not just for technology companies either. North Carolina companies as varied as Bank of America, Bayer, Norfolk Southern Railroad, and General Electric use data for insights into customers, products, and operations.

The report offers a number of recommendations to make North Carolina first in data, including:

  • Elevating the data economy to the top of state economic development priorities. As a first step, it recommends convening a high-level data working group comprised of leaders from all segments of the data economy.
  • Supporting data entrepreneurs and startup companies. Financial support through a matching fund targeted to data startups would be one mechanism for assisting entrepreneurs.
  • Investing in data science education. The report endorses a data literacy requirement for high school graduation, data science magnet high schools, and investing in associate, bachelor’s and advanced degree programs.
  • Supporting world-class data science research. The report says the state should consider creating a National Center of Excellence in Data Science and data experts should work to educate elected officials on data science and its economic value.

It’s an aggressive plan, but if North Carolina does not step up, some other state or region will emerge as the leader of the data economy, reaping benefits beyond what we can imagine now.

  “We have the pieces needed to make North Carolina’s role in data similar to the role Silicon Valley plays in the general technology sector,” said Shannon McKeen, director of business development for the NCDS, who helped create the report. “Our challenge is to bring those assets together as part of a cohesive and comprehensive plan to make NC first in data.”

To view or download the report, click here.


[1] IDC. “Worldwide Big Data and Business Analytics Revenues Forecast to Reach $187 Billion in 2019.” Worldwide Semiannual Big Data and Analytics Spending Guide. May 23, 2015. Accessed October 24, 2016.