Brooks Raiford has served as President and CEO of the North Carolina Technology Association (NC TECH) since 2008. NC TECH is the statewide industry association for the tech sector, representing over 600 member companies and organizations that collectively employ over 200,000 North Carolinians. In the early 1990s, he served as a policy aide in the North Carolina Governor’s Office, where a key focus area was information technology and its impact on a variety of public policy areas. Subsequently, he held executive positions in North Carolina’s nonprofit and business sectors.
Brooks’ current and recent leadership activities include serving on the North Carolina Commission on the Administration of Law and Justice; Vice Chair of the Board of Directors of the Technology Councils of North America; the North Carolina Advisory Committee of the US Global Leadership Coalition; the Guilford College Board of Trustees; and President of the Dean’s Advisory Board for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at NC State University, where he is a former Student Body President and University Trustee.
1. What is in your pockets?
A double-authentication fob for our company bank account.
2. What exciting thing has happened recently for you or your organization?
We took the occasion of our 25th anniversary year and rebranded and repositioned the NC Technology Association to be a little more modern and clear to external audiences, as to who we are and what we do. Not the least of which we now call ourselves NC TECH instead of the old NCTA, which could mean any number of things. It’s been very well received.
We do a lot of things that are geared toward our members in the way of programming, access to resources, original research on job trend data, etc., but I think what we do that’s most beneficial for the tech sector at large is our advocacy work, which is the least public part of what we do. The minute you’re noisy about your public affairs work is the minute you’re not as effective, because you’re making a lot of noise about a topic when a quiet conversation may be more effective.
So another way, we might go to the legislative leadership and engage with them on an issue that we know they are concerned about or that we are concerned about and either advocate for language or legislation that addresses it. Or in some cases you advocate to not do something that they’re trying to do. In our case, all in the interest of keeping North Carolina attractive to the innovation sector and innovation workers, and when we are successful in either getting something passed, or stopping something from happening, that benefits everybody in the sector, whether they’re a member or not. Our members help pay for that to happen but everybody benefits. I’m glad for that because I’m certainly in this because of my state and my interest in promoting the tech sector in our state.
3. What is your favorite coffee spot?
McDonald’s, because I don’t drink coffee. I have a big Diet Coke each morning. There’s a McDonald’s both near my house and about halfway to work, both of which are very modern and have good Wi-Fi. I have my usual booth at each of them where I’ll do my morning email and morning routine, and my caffeine is Diet Coke.
4. What keeps you up at night?
With respect to our association and the work that we do, it would be our ability to be seen as a relevant and leading organization on issues that are important to our sector. There’s a lot of competition for people’s time and resources. I am not a worrier type, but I do constantly think about the importance of making sure we are relevant to our members and to our sector with all the competition for their time and attention that’s out there.
5. What is your favorite restaurant or happy hour?
My favorite is the Angus Barn in Raleigh. I’m a traditionalist at heart and the experience combined with the food, combined with the people who’ve been there for so many years, combine to make that my comfortable place to go and enjoy good food, libation and conversation. In terms of modern and current it is The Cortez in downtown Raleigh, where the food’s amazing.
6. What is next for you or your organization?
We have just conducted a feasibility study on how and whether the association, which has a fairly small staff, should add to its staff resources, a position that would consolidate a lot of our work and engagement on the topic of talent. That’s a huge issue for all of our members, communities, and economic development organizations in North Carolina, particularly The Triangle and Charlotte. We have historically played more of a side role in that discussion and in the practical type of information or offerings around access to talent, development of talent, et cetera. Sometimes the question is asked, “What’s your next hire?” For us, we’re leaning toward some formal approach to being able to have a more consistent and leadership voice in the whole question or issue of talent in our state.
We offer a monthly IT job trends report that we use a Gartner tool to produce. We have tech job fairs throughout the course of the year. We commission an annual report on the state of the tech sector in North Carolina and a lot of that has talent data in it that we then use in some of our promotions. So we have a lot of activity going on. We have a scholarship for girls going into STEM and college, so to have someone who can take all that and put it under their area of work, but then add some capacity to be our voice, and a credible voice, in representing the association when these conversations happen. That’s what’s important to us so I think that’s what we’re looking to do.