First in Future: Where Emerging Ideas Take Flight is a podcast of the Institute for Emerging Issues at NC State University that connects you with people thinking big thoughts about the future of North Carolina. Each week, we talk with business leaders, elected officials, researchers, people working bottom up and top down to make North Carolina great. We hope you’ll use their thinking to jumpstart your thinking about our state – where it is and where we might go together. At the end of each episode, our guests will identify the biggest issues they think our state is facing; they recommend books; they’ll identify up-and-coming leaders; and they’ll answer at least one completely off-the-wall question as they tackle the (soon-to-be) famous IEI Five!
Know a North Carolinian who’d be a great guest for our podcast? We want to connect with the people you know – the forward-thinkers, the problem-solvers, the futurists, the leaders, the movers and shakers and changemakers. Scour your LinkedIn and cross-check your Rolodex; if you know someone working to make North Carolina a better place to work, live and play, we want to talk with them! Submit your guest ideas here!
Episode 20: Munro Richardson, Executive Director, Read Charlotte (New!)
Summary: A few years ago, some people in Charlotte got ticked off by a number – 39. Just 39 percent of third graders in Charlotte were reading at grade level. In some places people might have said, well that’s about average for the state—which it is. In some places they might have noticed that other cities were doing even worse—which they are. In some places they might have said “I guess there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s too hard.” But this being Charlotte, they took the opposite approach, rallying together a coalition of Belks, banks, foundations, and community leaders to form Read Charlotte. They set a goal of doubling the percentage of 3rd graders reading proficiently by 2025. Then they hired a Rhodes Scholar to run it. This week we talk with Read Charlotte Executive Director Munro Richardson about his approach to tackling big challenges, the importance of relentless networking, and the true home of good barbeque.
Episode 19: Rodger Lentz, Chief Planning & Development Officer, City of Wilson, with Sarah Langer Hall, IEI Policy Manager
Summary: At the Emerging Issues Forum on Innovation a couple of years ago, one of the clear findings was that outside of the Triangle and Charlotte, there wasn’t a really a fully developed structure in other cities and towns in North Carolina, to nurture people who wanted to start new, innovative businesses – we hadn’t built an entrepreneurial ecosystem. After the Forum, Anita Brown-Graham, the long-time head of the Institute for Emerging Issues, and Forward Communities CEO Christopher Gergen came up with an idea to jumpstart innovation nodes in other parts of the state. Eighteen communities applied to be part of the effort, and in the end, only five were selected. For the past two years, those cities—Greensboro, Asheville, Wilmington/Carolina Coast, Wilson and Pembroke—have all formed local teams. They have been meeting together regularly to share ideas to figure out how to build off of local assets so that a more diversity of people in those communities are creating businesses, and so that once those businesses get launched, they can get the kind of support they need to be successful. Each of the communities have developed a plan for going forward, and they want to help other communities. With the support of RTI International, the NC Department of Commerce’s Office of Science, Technology & Innovation, Forward Communities, and the Institute for Emerging Issues, they’ve applied some of their learnings to a tool that other communities can use to assess what they have, and begin the process of figuring out to get more innovative. Visit InnovateNC.org to download the tool, and put it to work in your town or community. This week, we talk with Rodger Lentz, City of Wilson’s Chief Planning and Development Officer who heads up the innovative work that Wilson is doing, and IEI Policy Manager Sarah Langer Hall who planned and designed the InnovateNC program for IEI.
Episode 18: Dr. Laura Gerald, President, Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust
Summary: On the one hand, who could have predicted it? Laura Gerald grew up in Robeson County, went to Harvard and Johns Hopkins for her medical degree, then ignored the myriad of opportunities available to her, returning to her hometown to serve her community as a pediatrician instead. On the other hand, it seems almost blindingly obvious that she would now be heading up the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust. Their biggest priorities are rural health and care for children in their earliest years – exactly what Laura spent a lifetime training for. This week, Dr. Laura Gerald, president of Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, discusses her journey along the way, what philanthropy can AND can’t do, her favorite cookbook, and the realization in her later years that she had grown up poor.
Summary: If you’re trying to imagine a new future for your town, or your county, or your region, or your state, or even your company, you need to have perspective. In an ideal world, you’d be talking to a lot of different, smart people; you’d step outside of your situation and see how other people are imagining their future; you’d want to know what assets you have to build on; you’d want to know what context you were working in; and if you were trying to advise people who were trying to plan for the future of a state, it would be hard to be better positioned than this week’s guest, Ted Abernathy. He grew up in a small town in North Carolina, and worked on a county level, worked on a regional level, worked on a multistate level. So naturally, when we sat down with him at the UNC-TV studios in Raleigh, we asked him to help us to imagine our state’s future.
Summary: A couple of years ago, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a bill making it the official policy of the state that every student should read at or above grade level by the end of third grade. The logic makes sense—if you can’t read by the end of third grade, you’re more likely to need remedial education; you’re less likely to graduate; and you’re less likely to get a job after graduation. Needless to say, the fewer children who read by the end of third grade, the less likely we are as a state to be first in future. To help address this concern, there are various national, statewide, regional and local groups, plus a grassroots effort called Reach Out and Read Carolinas. Reach Out and Read Carolinas gets to more than 300,000 kids each year in an unexpected place: the doctor’s office (or a clinic, or a hospital). Think about it—more than 90 percent of children visit the doctor every year, and when they get there, they see someone they trust. At each of the 400 Reach Out and Read sites in North and South Carolina, the medical professional hands the child the book and then engages them – and their parents – in a conversation about reading. This week, we talk with Callee Boulware, executive director of Reach Out and Read Carolinas, about why the program seems to make a difference in helping meet that objective.
Summary: The Asheville of today is a many-splendored thing. It’s appeared on numerous “Best of” lists and received countless titles – like “One of the Best Places to Reinvent Your Life,” “The Happiest City in America for Women,” “The Hippie Capital of the South,” “The Best City for Locavores,” “The Most Romantic Place in U.S.A. and Canada,” and, of course, “Beer City U.S.A.” – and combined with its natural physical beauty, it offers many enticing features for newcomers. This week’s guest remembers Asheville before all those awards, when it was really struggling to recover from the Great Depression. As a direct descendent of George Washington Vanderbilt, the man behind the Biltmore House, Jack Cecil and his family have been in Asheville for generations. As we talk with Jack about how Asheville recovered, changed and grew into itself, we hope you’ll listen for some of the ways he’s learned what it takes to develop communities in the future in a way that lasts.
Summary: With a name like Marshall Brain, there’s quite an expectation to live up to—but for this guy, director of the Engineering Entrepreneurs Program at NC State, he makes being a brain-iac look easy. For one, he’s relentlessly curious about everything. As the founder of HowStuffWorks.com, Marshall set out to explain to people how stuff works – literally. And he’s extended that curiosity and that easy, straightforward sense of information-sharing beyond his one-time hobby. He’s the former host of Nat Geo’s “Factory Floor with Marshall Brain,” the author of more than 20 books, and a frequent guest on CNN, “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” MSNBC, “Good Morning America” and more. As you might imagine, it’s hard to have a boring – or short! – conversation with Marshall, so we’re breaking it into two parts. In part one, we sit down with Marshall to talk about cleaning toilets, flying fighter jets, and whether we should be optimistic or pessimistic about the future of jobs in North Carolina. Plus! We ask him what he tells young people is most important when they’re starting a business. In part two, we pick up in a place that may seem a little remote from North Carolina – Mars. As you listen, we think you’ll see how thinking a little bit about Mars can help us think differently about our state’s rural-urban divide, about early childhood education, and about the challenges and opportunities of automation.
Summary: A couple months ago, a group of CEOs from some of North Carolina’s largest corporations gathered in Garner and did something remarkable: They folded themselves into chairs and began reading books to five-year-olds. It’s part of an effort by a group called the Business Roundtable to highlight the importance of early childhood education. The CEOs at the announcement that day were advocating for more investment in a series of things that are more likely to result in more students being really good at reading by the end of third grade. Their argument is that it’s not only a good thing to do—it’s in their business communities’ interest. This week we talk with Jenn Mann, head of HR at SAS, about how investing in early childhood programs is helping SAS tackle one of industry’s most pressing issues: talent retention.
Summary: Per educator Karl Fisch, the challenge of educators is to “prepare students for jobs that don’t exist yet, where they’ll be using technology that hasn’t been invented yet, in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.” Education needs to become much more about teaching people not just a body of facts but how to learn, ensuring learning becomes a lifelong process. Community colleges are critical to equipping students of all ages with the necessary skills to meet the challenge of change in our state, and with nearly 800,000 people enrolled in one of North Carolina’s 58 community colleges each year, the community college system’s role in addressing the FutureWork challenge continues to grow. This week, we talk with former NC Lieutenant Governor Walter Dalton, now president of Isothermal Community College in Columbus, to talk about how community colleges are thinking about their work going forward, and what that means for all of us.
Summary: In the center of Pembroke, a sleepy town of just 3,000 in southeastern North Carolina, the Thomas Family Center for Entrepreneurship at UNC Pembroke has set up shop in a restored furniture store. Heading the center is an unlikely leader: Thomas Hall, a man who, until recently, worked in Boston to launch a number of consumer products. His new charge is to work with an enthusiastic group of citizens to figure out how to create a vibrant innovation ecosystem in Robeson County, just a few miles from the South Carolina border. Pembroke’s team is joining with similar communities as a part of InnovateNC, an initiative that grew out of IEI’s 2015 Emerging Issues Forum, Innovation Reconstructed. Their goal is to, in part, assess their assets and try to build on – not abandon – them. This week, we talk to Thomas Hall in the Thomas Center’s 20,000 sq. ft. incubator about “coop-itition,” the county’s first makerspace, and how entrepreneurial success can transform this small community.
Summary: Jim Johnson at the Kenan-Flagler Business School likes to describe North Carolina’s future this way: “Going forward,” he says, “our state will be grayer and browner.” Like the rest of the country, North Carolinians are, on average, getting older, grayer. In the next 30 years, there will be another million people in the state 65 years or older, beyond the years people say are most productive. The people coming into the workforce, Johnson says, will be browner. Sometime during the mid-2020s, North Carolina high schools will graduate their first majority-minority class. Right now, our state doesn’t do nearly as good a job educating African-Americans, Latinos and Native Americans, or students from low-income backgrounds. Each of these groups is less likely to graduate from high school; less likely to graduate from college; and will, on average, make less money. If older people are going to retire, we need every smart person we can find graduating, ready to think faster, create more and help to invent our future. This week’s guest is working on a solution for one of those groups, young African-Americans. Atrayus Goode, an alum of 100 Black Men of America, founded Movement of Youth, a multi-state group designed to help connect young African-Americans with role models who inspire them to set high goals and dream big dreams. Goode talks with us about leading productive conversations on race, the Service Year NC initiative, and raising kids to be strong, independent leaders.
Summary: As North Carolina looks to our future, there are two types of innovation we’re going to need: business innovation and social innovation. UNC Wilmington’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship innately understands the value of both and strives to nurture emerging companies committed to innovation. This week, we talk with David Morrison, UNCW CIE Nonprofit Advisor in Residence, who leads the Center’s nonprofit wing and works one-on-one with individuals to launch nonprofit initiatives. In David, UNCW CIE got someone who has a strong track record starting and sustaining a social enterprise. They also found someone who is a fierce advocate for the rights of the left behind. Morrison shares his story, discusses the value of innovation, and reaffirms his commitment to accessibility for the estimated 236,700 working adults with disabilities across North Carolina.
Summary: These days, we’re inundated by what the North Carolina Office of Science, Technology and Innovation call a “data tsunami.” Here’s a mind-blowing number from their recently released report: We have collected more data about ourselves and our world in the past two years than we have collected in all of human history. Given that data – and its influence on our lives – isn’t going away, we need to find a way to do more with it. This week, we sit down with John Hardin, Executive Director of the Office of Science, Technology and Innovation, to tease out some of the ways we could use data to help us be “first in future.” We also unmask John’s favorite superhero – an amalgam of all the core strengths embodied by forward-thinking North Carolinians.
Summary: What does one do after leaving the job of top salesperson for an entire state? For Sharon Decker, that doesn’t mean retirement. After serving as Secretary of Commerce under Gov. Pat McCrory, Decker moved back to rural North Carolina, where she is helping build a business and rebuild a region’s hopes and dreams. As COO of the Tryon International Equestrian Center, Decker is building a dream that could someday be comparable to golf, or to NASCAR. This week, Decker discusses her career change and shares her book recommendations, and we get the first answer on this podcast to the age-old question, If you were a horse, what kind would you be?
Summary: One of the signs of a vibrant economy is one in which there’s a constant churn of “creative destruction”: A mix of one group of companies going out of business being replaced by new companies. Statewide, there’s a patchwork of incubators to nurture these new companies; these shared spaces bring together a variety of young firms into a common space to help fledgling companies share costs and benefit from the energy that comes from being around other startups. This week, we’re joined by Sean Ahlum, director at one such incubator, tekMountain in Wilmington, to talk about Wilmington, surfing, breweries, utility infielders, equity crowdfunding and innovation ecosystems.
Summary: At IEI, we’re committed to North Carolina’s future, dedicating our time, talent and energy to identify and address the state’s most pressing issues. We start to determine the issues we work on by listening, by giving the problem a name; then, we frame the issue through research and collaboration. If we do our work right, good things happen, and the state and its people make some progress. This week, we sit down with Donnie Charleston, IEI Economic Policy Manager, to talk about finding common ground, talent development and why a generation of Batmans would benefit us all.
Summary: In North Carolina, a remarkable coalition of organizations has gathered to distill the best ideas from across the early childhood community to help shape our state’s future. This week, we’re joined by Tracy Zimmerman, executive director of the North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation, to talk about the importance of collaboration in investing in early years, the draw of North Carolina, and the strongest – and most flawed – superhero out there.
Summary: In every nook of every zip code of our state exists some part of our faith community. As of last year, there were 8,961 religious institutions in North Carolina, and we’ve seen the incredible volunteer power that the faith community has in moving projects forward. This week, we talk with Bishop Hope Morgan Ward, Resident Bishop of The United Methodist Church, NC Conference, about Congregations for Children and how the faith community can play an appropriate role in making sure we are inventing our own future.
Summary: Investing in early childhood education is a long-term proposition, and it takes conviction to be able to wait. This week, we check in with Jim Hansen, Regional President of PNC Bank, which is a making a 12-year, $350 million investment in early childhood. Also: observations on batting averages, Blowing Rock and “playing offense” with our state’s future.
Summary: Two leaders of the General Assembly’s early childhood caucus–Rep. Craig Horn and Sen. Jeff Jackson— talk about why they care about the issue, preparing for automation, Winston Churchill, and why grandchildren might just be the state’s perfect talent recruitment tool.