NC tech industry grows, but graduates aren't staying for the jobs

The North Carolina State of Technology 2016 Industry Report, which used economic indicators from 2013 and 2014, found the technology industry employed over 228,000 people and was worth $75 billion in sales revenue in 2014.

The state’s average earnings per worker in the industry was $106,000, compared to the $55,000 average across all industries in the state, with the most common tech industry job of software developer including 23 percent of all tech workers.

North Carolina’s prominent research universities, including UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State University, receive support to make new discoveries in the fields of science while engineering and venture capital firms do not receive as much, the report said.

North Carolina had 32 new companies start from its universities in 2014, indicating the state is able to turn its research assets and public funding into economic opportunities.

“There are world class research universities, great faculty, students, people who are developing ideas in laboratories and classrooms across the state,” said Christopher Chung, CEO of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, in the report.

N.C. Department of State Treasurer Janet Cowell said in the report the universities also serve North Carolina’s technological industry due to their emphasis on STEM education.

Despite projected growth, the lead researcher for the report, Ted Abernathy, said the industry still faces trouble with recruitment.

“We interviewed a dozen tech leaders, and overwhelmingly the top issue facing everybody was trying to find the right people,” he said.

Many of the industry leaders featured in the report advised policymakers that an important step for continued growth is ensuring that young talent remains in North Carolina.

“On the venture capital side, so much of that is based in Silicon Valley, and so many venture capitalists want their companies close to home that we really need to address how we can fund start-ups to keep companies here and get them to start here,” said Jim Whitehurst, president and chief executive officer of Red Hat, in the report.

The challenge, Abernathy said, is with students. He said recent graduates do not want to stay in North Carolina.

“Technology jobs are projected to grow quite a bit, and a 24-year-old doesn’t always make decisions based on where all the jobs are, so we have to understand that,” he said.

Abernathy said the technology sector gets graduates from out-of-state wanting to experience a new place, but in-state students have the same desire and often leave North Carolina.

“Young people have a tendency to have a little bit of wanderlust about them that will move them to the next new great, wonderful place,” he said.

Abernathy said in addition to better understanding the tendencies of recent graduates, the state should focus on maintaining a high quality of life that meets their needs.

“You can grow your economy only as much as you can grow your workforce,” he said. “It’s having those jobs available, and it’s also having a place where people want to be.”

state@dailytarheel.com

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