University harnessing big data to aid regional industries through new initiative

East Carolina University reinforced its commitment to drive economic growth in the region Monday with the announcement of a new Economic Growth Collaboratory.

More than 100 industry and community leaders attended ECU’s industry roundtable luncheon where Dr. Jay Golden, vice chancellor for research, economic development and engagement, shared the university’s vision for the collaboratory and its role in driving economic prosperity in eastern North Carolina.

“ECU will become a national model of active engagement with business and community leaders to create the organizational strategies, investments and policies that result in the growth of existing businesses, while creating a new generation of homegrown companies throughout the region,” Golden said.

To meet this charge, the ECU Economic Growth Collaboratory will focus on the development of powerful new approaches which leverage big data and analytics with visualization and community-wide collaboration to find meaningful pathways and opportunities for economic growth. More specifically, the collaboratory will:

  • Cultivate, house, analyze and visualize big data that supports business-based solutions that drive economic development.
  • House a collaboration space for up to 50 participants on ECU’s planned Millennial Campus where representatives from industry, economic development offices, academics and community leaders will explore big data developed by ECU researchers in the sciences, engineering, business, education and health fields.
  • The collaboratory will feature a 270-degree immersive visualization hub that will allow representatives from industry and government to examine previously unavailable data that will be visualized, modeled and put into simulation by ECU researchers allowing for a new generation of solutions and opportunities.
  • Provide satellite decision centers throughout rural North Carolina using ECU’s network of eight Community Service Learning Centers and its Outer Banks Campus. The decision centers will be connected to the collabatory’s home in Greenville.
  • Support local communities, utilities, industry and state agencies in the development of new insights and analyses that provide rural and coastal communities a competitive advantage in the recruitment and retention of industries.

“ECU is committed to supporting the growth of businesses located in eastern North Carolina,” Golden said. “We’re not only devoted to expanding our faculty and student research base, but we’re investing in infrastructure to drive public-private partnership opportunities. A thriving research environment serves to benefit our regional industries and the collaboratory is one of the first steps toward developing mutually beneficial alliances between the university and businesses located in eastern North Carolina.”

The collaboratory officially launches in March with an initial focus on value-add agriculture.

Similar collaborations have been successful at other universities across the country. Arizona State University has been able to address local, national and international issues through its Decision Theater Network and Virginia Tech’s Discovery Analytics Center has brought together computer scientists, engineers and statisticians to meet workforce needs through data analysis.

“Our research programs are growing, but we’re not satisfied with the status quo,” Golden said. “We’re continuing to add infrastructure, like the collaboratory, to develop these big, bold ideas that help ECU researchers tackle the region’s health, economic and educational disparities.”

ECU has promised to produce the most student startup companies in North Carolina through its recently launched student microenterprise program and is in the processing of developing the Van and Jennifer Isley Innovation Hub – the largest university space of its type in North Carolina ­– that will serve as an additional work space for innovative design, mentoring and prototyping. The university is also home to the Miller School of Entrepreneurship, the only named school of its kind in the state.

The collaboratory is part of ECU’s Rural Prosperity Initiative. The initiative harnesses the intellectual strengths and research resources of ECU to improve the quality of life, health, education and employment for eastern North Carolinians. Learn more about the RPI and other ECU initiatives that spur innovation.

More than 100 eastern North Carolina industry and community leaders were on hand for ECU’s Economic Growth Collaboratory launch announcement. The industry roundtable luncheons serve as an opportunity for industry leaders to share their needs with ECU leadership.

ECU Honors Industry Leaders

ECU also honored a pair of industry leaders at the Jan. 28 luncheon.

The university recognized Grady-White Boats owner and CEO Eddie Smith with its Regional Commitment Award and Grover Gaming owner and CEO Garrett Blackwelder with its Emerging Business Leader Award.

The duo were presented their awards by ECU Chancellor Cecil Staton and Vice Chancellor for Research, Economic Development and Engagement Jay Golden.

Grady-White Boats owner and CEO Eddie Smith (center) is presented with ECU’s Regional Commitment Award by Chancellor Cecil Staton (left) and Vice Chancellor for Research, Economic Development and Engagement Jay Golden.

For more than 60 years, Grady-White Boats has been an integral part of Greenville’s industrial sector. Established in 1959, Grady-White was purchased by Smith in 1968 and has since been awarded every third-party customer satisfaction award presented in the marine industry. The company has twice expanded its manufacturing facility in Greenville, investing millions of dollars and creating new jobs in the region.

Grover Gaming owner and CEO Garrett Blackwelder (center) is presented with ECU’s Emerging Business Leader Award by Chancellor Cecil Staton (left) and Vice Chancellor for Research, Economic Development and Engagement Jay Golden.

Like Smith, Blackwelder and Grover Gaming have quickly emerged as an industry leader in their field. The electronic gaming design company has built a reputation for cutting-edge gameplay interfaces and graphics, while raising more than $80 million for charitable causes. Blackwelder, an ECU alum and men’s basketball letterwinner, aims to grow Grover Gaming’s workforce to 200 employees within the next year and a half. The company also operates offices in Georgia, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Virginia and New Hampshire.

Smith and Blackwelder are the first recipients of the industry-related awards.