Tipping Point: Electronics

Jim Goodnight left the faculty of N.C. State University in 1976 and started what would become the most successful software company in North Carolina. Cary-based SAS Institute Inc. grossed nearly $2 billion in 2006 and routinely ranks among the top five private companies in the state.

I can’t say there was any one tipping point in technology. Things just keep evolving. Our university system produces a lot of tech-savvy graduates. N.C. State was one of the first to establish a computer-science program in the late ’60s, and we recruit fairly heavily there. When SAS started, our analytical software was used mainly by pharmaceutical companies and agricultural universities that were doing experiments. A lot of the pharmaceutical R&D that came here created other companies, and pharmaceutical companies are still big users of our software. But over the years, other companies have become interested in bringing analytics into their everyday operations. SAS has moved out of the laboratory into the mainstream of running businesses. Financial institutions became interested in analytics around 1990. We started working with American Express in its call centers and in its marketing. Regulations by the government have increased our business. The Patriot Act in 2001 required financial institutions to have anti-money-laundering software in place. At that time, we had none, and we persuaded Morgan Stanley, Bank of America and Wachovia to give us a chance to create some. And five years later, we’re No. 1 in the world in anti-money-laundering software. The financial industry represents about 40% of our business. Incentives, especially the R&D tax credit, have helped lure other tech companies to North Carolina. The state has been very much oriented toward recruiting them and has done a good job. It was able to keep Lenovo’s design group here, and it attracted Google to the western part of the state and Dell to the Triad.