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WNC Business

Advocacy, education, and connectivity for the tech industry

Sep 16, 2023 02:37PM ● By Randee Brown

Celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2023, the North Carolina Tech Association is a trade organization comprising 600+ member companies and organizations that collectively employ over 200,000 North Carolinians. 

Brooks Raiford, President and CEO of the NC Tech Association, said many members are from predominant metro areas including the Research Triangle Park, Charlotte, and the Greater Triad Region along with hotspots including Asheville, Greenville, Hickory, and Wilmington. “The Triad area and west account for 40% of our members,” he said.

Raiford said Western North Carolina is not a hub of large software companies like the major NC metro areas, though they definitely exist in the area. Member companies in the region include entities in educational, nonprofit, and public sectors among others. 

The NC Tech Association is funded by tickets for Association events and sponsorship of programs in addition to member dues. With eight full-time staff in the triangle area, of which several positions are hybrid, the statewide association can host virtual programs or roundtable meetings, and participants can attend remotely from anywhere or choose to attend in person. 

According to Raiford, these wider opportunities for participation have led to fewer objections from potential or new member companies, more virtual peer groups, and perhaps more members from rural areas. Benefits include the ability to post available job positions, access to research, and the ability to tune into meetings and conferences without unnecessary travel.

“This is a game changer,” Raiford said. “We are now live streaming events, and registrants get a link to videos to watch any missed portions, including simultaneous breakout sessions covering more than one topic at the same time. These options have opened up exposure in a way we’ve never encountered before.”

The NC Tech Association advocates for a variety of matters applicable to the tech sector. Examples of these matters include tightening infringement laws around frivolous patent infringement claims and establishing a cap on tech vendor damages potentially faced when contracting with the state.

Raiford said the Association also played a role in persuading the state to fund training existing teachers at the middle and high school level to ensure each of those schools has at least one qualified computer science teacher on staff. Also encouraging interest in STEM education through the Association’s Education Foundation, scholarships are provided to female high school graduates who are enrolling in NC colleges or universities with an interest in pursuing STEM degrees.

In Western North Carolina, businesses like Apple, Google, and Meta have data centers in the isothermal area. The isothermal region has a very stable climate, and Raiford said the lack of major storms, minimal plate tectonics, and inexpensive energy makes the area attractive for these large data centers.

Raiford said these big brand data centers impact the community colleges directly, as the community college system helps to create curricula in partnership with these businesses. Common curriculum for data center companies teaches students about 75% of what they need to know, and the individual companies train for the remaining 25% which is specific to each business.

“It’s inevitable that there will be some movement of talent between these entities,” Raiford said. “There is a clear advantage if there is a common thread in the way this tech talent is educated — it’s more consistent and more efficient.”

Impacts of the NC Tech Association impact more than the tech and education sectors. Tech talent applies to every industry, and even in the list of the top 10 hirers of tech talent, the top-ranking tech company is only number seven, ranking under hirers of other industries, according to TalentNeuron’s April 2023 jobs report. 

“Typically our aim is to remove regulatory or other barriers and improve the economic environment so that companies can thrive,” Raiford said. “This means some of our efforts have impacts across the business sector, not just limited to tech firms.”