Wednesday, January 15, 2020 - 00:00

North Carolina Gains Ground on Key Markers for Innovation Seventh edition of the state’s ‘Tracking Innovation’ report finds N.C. national rank jumps two places, but gains are uneven across the state

Raleigh, N.C.
Jan 15, 2020

North Carolina jumps forward two places nationally in an overall measure of innovation capacity, according to the 2019 Tracking Innovation report released today by the North Carolina Board of Science, Technology & Innovation.  The report also found the number of innovation-oriented establishments in North Carolina increased by twice the national rate and that the state has seen impressive gains in the number of people engaged in engineering and other innovation-oriented occupations.

The 2019 report, the seventh in a series first published in 2000, rigorously evaluates the state’s standing against other states in the country on forty measures of innovation capacity and outlines ways to advance the state’s economy by encouraging and harnessing innovation.

North Carolina now ranks 21st in the nation for innovation, up from its 23rd place ranking in 2017.

“Innovative economies are healthy economies,” said N.C. Commerce Secretary Anthony M. Copeland. “This report confirms the state’s strengths as a business location for innovative companies and also offers suggestions for how we can strengthen and expand our ecosystem to foster more innovation in all regions of North Carolina.”

In addition to the overall ranking score, North Carolina sees gains on several key innovation measures in the new report:

  • Since 2003, the number of business establishments engaged in high science, engineering and technology (SET) increased by 24.4 percent in North Carolina, a rate almost twice the rate for the U.S.
  • North Carolina’s academic research & development intensity has grown at a rate of 25.4 percent since 2003, three times faster than the national average (8.4 percent).
  • The percentage of North Carolina’s employment in high SET employment establishments has increased by 6.1 percent since 2003, higher than the 1.0 percent rate of increase for the U.S.
  • From 2003 to 2017, the percentage of the state’s workforce in science and engineering occupations increased significantly, by 34.8 percent, faster than the rate of increase for the U.S. overall (24.1 percent).
  • From 2003 to 2018, the percentage of trained engineers in the state’s workforce increased by 24.1 percent, higher than the rate of increase for the U.S. overall (8.7 percent).


The report does identify areas for improvement, particularly the need to build the state’s innovation capacity beyond the state’s current hotbeds, which are centered around North Carolina’s major research universities or population centers.  Measures related to technology transfer and commercialization also lag behind national averages, although the state has improved its standing over time on those rankings.

“In North Carolina innovation thrives, and it regularly creates vibrant, new businesses and consistently generates significant, higher-wage jobs,” said Michael Cunningham, Chairman of the North Carolina Board of Science Technology and Innovation. “As some of our state’s historical industries have waned, we need to do all we can to accelerate our innovation economy and broaden its geographic reach. This report makes clear that there is much that has yet to be done. Elected officials, policymakers, economic development professionals, educators and business leaders all have a role to play in this important statewide effort.”

The 2019 Tracking Innovation report is the Board’s seventh report since 2000 on innovation in North Carolina.  The full text of the new report can be found online at   More information about North Carolina’s Office of Science, Technology & Innovation can be found at

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