For years North Carolina has consistently been one of the best states in the country, often far surpassing our southern neighbors on quality of life and business competitiveness rankings. We’re home to Research Triangle Park (RTP), a global hub of innovation and growth, as well as having some of the best public education systems in the country. From the world renown UNC system, to a vibrant community college system and excellent K-12 schools, North Carolina has been a leader in education and jobs for decades. 

It didn’t happen by accident. 

North Carolina is where it is because of decades of investment in our economy and educational systems. We’ve had great leaders who had the foresight to make critical investments that have paid enormous dividends for the citizens of our state.

RTP – Paving the way for future innovation and progress
During the 1950s, North Carolina’s per capita income was one of the lowest in the country and government and business leaders were concerned about the state’s economic future. They created one of the most successful public-private partnerships in our nation’s history with the establishment of Research Triangle Park. With 5 companies located in RTP by the end of 1959, the area has only continued to flourish. Today, RTP is home to 140 businesses and 38,000 employees, including major corporations like GlaxoSmithKline and IBM.

Terry Sanford and Jim Hunt - A Commitment To Education
When Governor Sanford took office in 1961, North Carolina ranked among the worst states in math, science and reading. Governor Sanford made education the centerpiece of his Governorship and dramatically increased funding for public schools. Governor Sanford established the community college system in North Carolina, which is now the 3rd largest community college system in the country serving over 800,000 students. He also played a key role in helping consolidate the disparate public colleges under one organization, the UNC System.

Governor Sanford’s commitment to public education was a mantle carried by Governor Jim Hunt, the only person ever to serve four terms of North Carolina’s Governor. During his time in the State Senate, he helped pass bills requiring kindergarten and increasing teacher pay. As Governor he spearheaded a number of public education initiatives that have a lasting impact today. These include; establishment of a reading program in first through third grades, limits to class size, the creation of the School of Math and Science and the creation of Smart Start, a public-private partnership that serves children from birth to age 5.

More than just education
Many people are aware of North Carolina’s history of making strong investments in public education, but our progressive history extends further than that. During Governor Sanford’s term, he established the North Carolina Fund, a non-profit corporation designed to create projects in education, health, job training, and housing and community development. During the summers of 1964 and 1965, teams of African American and white students worked together to show that communities are stronger when people reach across racial lines.

Unfortunately we’ve seen much of the progress made by leaders like Governor Sanford and Governor Hunt eroded in recent years. If North Carolina is going to remain a leader in education and innovation, we must continue investing in those areas.