North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper opened this week’s CED Tech Venture Conference with a flashback to his adolescence in rural Nash County, to a moment where he blocked a shot by former UNC point guard and NBA player Phil Ford when they were playing on rival teams in high school.
Cooper refers to this moment as his “claim to fame,” and tied it into his passion for his present career as governor. His passion is rooted in his lifelong experiences in North Carolina, as he developed an ambition to galvanize its rich history into the future.
Cooper quickly slid into what would be a continued theme throughout his speech, focusing on education and how the state needs to build up its schools to attract new companies, new jobs and new investments. Those are the key ingredients he believes will yield more powerful economic outcomes in the state.
He brought up the state’s trailblazing history in education, remembering that UNC was the first public university to open its doors in the country.
As the son of a public school teacher, Cooper called to mind the values his mother instilled in him. He grew up with a passion for education, gathering an understanding of how it works and how it can improve economies.
That was the seed for a mission statement Cooper has carried with him throughout his career as Senate majority leader and then Attorney General, pushing for stronger education policies. This was also a dominant priority throughout his campaign last year.
He offered a metaphor for how his administration, the most diverse cabinet in North Carolina history, is mission-driven, similar to most startups.
“Every CEO needs a mission statement,” he said. “Mine is that I want a North Carolina where people are better educated, they’re healthier, they have more money in their pockets, and have an opportunity to build a more abundant and purposeful life.”
Cooper wants to make North Carolina a top-10 educated state by 2025. That means the state will have to get more kids (including those on the waiting list) in pre-K and early childhood education programs and more high school students will need to graduate and go on to earn the credentials required to perform the new tech jobs pouring into North Carolina.
He was quick to remind the audience that North Carolina includes more than hot metro areas like RTP, Charlotte and the Triad. The rural parts of our state need more attention, he said. This includes making sure that the 4,000 houses that don’t have access to high speed internet are granted with the connectivity networks they need.
Meanwhile, Cooper added, he and his administration are committed to driving common ground with the GOP-led legislature. He encouraged the audience to do the same in their everyday interactions with people of opposite political views.
“Take them out to lunch and just listen,” he said. “I think that people are hungry for knowledgeable leaders…and they’re willing to talk rationally to find a consensus.”
Cooper acknowledged that state government can be a help or an impediment to business, but it can also be the type of catalyst startups need to succeed.
He said his administration will continue to vouch for entrepreneurs, adding tributes to the fast growth of Triangle startups like ArchiveSocial and the work of local entrepreneurs like ShareFile’s Jesse Lipson, whose exit to Citrix in 2014 brought hundreds of jobs to the state.
“There can be more and more success stories if we create an environment and culture for innovators and entrepreneurs to succeed…for their work ethic to thrive,” Cooper concluded.