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WRAL TechWire: NC Chamber Foundation ‘Dashboard’ maps course to state’s future


Tags: Internet, Employment, RTI, Organizations

RALEIGH, N.C. — When it comes to technology jobs, pharmaceutical companies and software firms form a solid foundation for North Carolina’s high tech economy.

But by some measures that foundation falls short of other states. Twenty eight states, including neighboring Virginia, had a higher percentage of high-tech employment than North Carolina in 2008, the most recent data available, according to analysis done for the NC Chamber Foundation.

With North Carolina’s population projected to grow to 12 million by 2030, the Chamber Foundation has commissioned software to track the state’s progress creating the jobs, economy and infrastructure to accommodate that growth. The software is related to a plan Vision 2030, which the North Carolina Chamber announced in March. The idea behind the dashboard is that in order to get to assess how North Carolina is doing with Vision 2030, leaders must measure how the state is doing over time.

“Think of Vision 2030 as the North Star, it’s the beacon we’re looking at for the long range plan,” said Jim Simpson, president of the NC Chamber Foundation. “The dashboard is the way to measure progress.”

Dashboard 2030 launched on Tuesday. Simpson said that he’s aware that there are various studies that assess North Carolina on various measures. North Carolina fairs well on some of those studies and comes off not so favorably on others. One of the goals for Dashboard 2030 is to come up with an objective, factually-based way to assess the state’s progress on four pillars outlined by Vision 2030:

1. Education and talent supply
2. Competitive business climate
3. Entrepreneurship and innovation
4. Infrastructure and growth leadership

The dashboard will track measures including unemployment rate; fourth grade reading comprehension; college completion rates; and energy, water and infrastructure demands. In total, the dashboard tracks more than 40 metrics, each related to one of the four pillars. The Chamber Foundation identified those metrics in consultation with John Silvia, chief economist for Wells Fargo; N.C. State University economist Michael Walden; and Ted Abernathy, economic policy advisor to the Southern Governors Association. In some cases, data is available down to the county level.

The dashboard is free and available to all; Simpson envisions businesses and local chambers using dashboard data to come up with locally developed initiatives that improve a community’s position on one or more of the four pillars. Where appropriate, local initiatives could align with regional or even state efforts to develop nonpolitical solutions.

The Chamber Foundation has already shared the dashboard with legislative leaders and Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration and received positive feedback. But Simpson said that the goals of the dashboard should not be seen as political, nor should they be affected by party changes from one election to another. The dashboard was commissioned by the non-profit NC Chamber Foundation and not the Chamber itself. The distinction is important because as a non-profit, the Foundation can’t have any political affiliation and its work cannot be seen as partisan in nature, Simpson said.

“I don’t think there’s anything about our four pillars that’s political,” he said. “They’re not Republican or Democrat in any way. They’re just things that citizens of our state should care about.”

The dashboard software was developed by RTI International, culling data from publicly available sources including the U.S. Census Bureau, Bureau of Economic Analysis, Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the National Science Foundation. Right now, RTI’s role is solely to manage the dashboard. But at some point, the Chamber Foundation might need to dive deep into those numbers for analysis. RTI could be help out on that work. But Simpson said that that depending on the project, Simpson said the right partner could also be someone else.

In the next year, the Chamber Foundation is looking to build out the dashboard by adding more metrics as well as a mobile app that would make it easy to use on tablets and smartphones. The foundation has already asked RTI to submit a proposal. Simpson said that there is no timeline for rolling out the app or additional metrics for the dashboard. But he said that additional capabilities that the Foundation would like to see added include data comparison county by county. The Foundation would also like to compare North Carolina to other states and even other global economies – the economy of the state of North Carolina ranks as the 28th largest economy in the world.

“We’re actually competing globally so we think it’s important to measure where we can,” Simpson said.

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