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Moving North Carolina Forward

The Emerging Issues Commons in the Hunt Library, home of the Institute for Emerging Issues. Photography by Steve Exum.

Anita Brown-Graham is upbeat, peppy—and for good reason. The director of the Institute for Emerging Issues and her team just relocated to a newer and larger space in the James B. Hunt Jr. Library. Their beautiful new headquarters includes an auditorium, media and quiet rooms and a spectacular view. The centerpiece is the Emerging Issues Commons, an interactive exhibit about North Carolina that serves as a  collaborative working and learning space, available to anyone for free.

“Being here, it’s hard not feeling inspired by the IEI goal of moving North Carolina forward,” Brown-Graham says from the commons floor. “We want people here doing useful things—and feeling inspired to act. That’s what the IEI and this space is all about.”

The New Commons

Brown-Graham and Dana Magliola, media relations officer, proudly show the main features. Interactive touchscreens present data on education, health, the economy, and natural or man-made environments from different counties while also offering inspirational quotes.

Anita Brown-Graham in the Emerging Issues Commons.

A visitor tries out one of the interactive displays in the Emerging Issues Commons.

For instance, if you wanted to know the average vehicles miles traveled in Johnston County and how this links to obesity, you can do that comparison and examine how obesity impacts chronic diseases, Brown-Graham explains.

The commons can be accessed directly, on the main floor of the Hunt Library, or online from say, a town hall in Murphy, N.C. Already legislators and small businesses are booking the area for brainstorming sessions and meetings. The Research Triangle Foundation, a nonprofit organization, has pledged to bring newly arrived CEOs to the commons for an interactive snapshot of the state.

“The role of a land-grant institution like NC State is educating the masses and enabling problem solving, leadership development and collaboration. This tool achieves that in a very modern way,” Magliola says.

The Emerging Issues Forum

Having fully relocated, the IEI team now busily prepares for their annual forum, held this year at the Raleigh Convention Center on Feb. 11 and 12. The 2013 focus is manufacturing, which contributes the most to North Carolina’s gross domestic product, employing 430,000 people. Furniture, tobacco, textiles, computers, electronics, machinery and chemicals are all manufactured here—yet few Americans or even North Carolinians would know, Brown-Graham says.

A man and woman use an interactive display in the Emerging Issues Common.

Visitors use an interactive display in the Emerging Issues Common.

The state’s manufacturing sector is buoyant. But ongoing improvements in efficiency, coupled with the introduction of advanced technologies means manufacturing jobs are dwindling. Since 1997 productivity in manufacturing has risen 125 percent, output has risen 26 percent while manufacturing employment has decreased by 45 percent, according to IEI data.

“What one worker can produce today, it took three people to produce a generation earlier,” Brown-Graham says.

The IEI hopes to tackle these kinds of concerns at the February forum with the help of experts like former Wired magazine editor Chris Anderson, now CEO of 3D Robotics, retired Caterpillar CEO Jim Owens and Dow Chemical Company CEO Andrew Liveris, longtime proponents of advanced manufacturing.

Forever the optimist, Brown-Graham says this new era of manufacturing offers North Carolina potential for growth. So much is at stake—especially given the fact that the average annual compensation for manufacturing jobs is more than 50 percent higher than all non-farm related jobs.

“North Carolina must seize the opportunity and it’s our job to help.”

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