Duke Chronicle, Apr. 13, 2007

N.C. gets top marks for 'innovation'

by Maya Salwen

North Carolina state and local governments have recently been recognized as some of the most innovative in the country.

Three state and two local government programs were selected to be among Harvard University's 2007 Top 50 Government Innovations, North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley announced last week.

The three state programs are Learn and Earn, Community Care of North Carolina and the Ecosystem Enhancement Program. The two local programs are the city of High Point's Overt Drug Market Strategy and a Johnston County tax program that supports custom curricula for specific employee skill enhancement.

This nomination is the first step in the Innovations in American Government Awards program. Seven finalists will be chosen in July and awarded $100,000 at a ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Only six or seven states had multiple programs in the top-50 ranking, said Kara O'Sullivan, manager for administration and events for the Innovations in American Government Awards program.

"I think this speaks to North Carolina being a center for innovation." she said.

According to the website of Harvard's Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation, groups are evaluated based on their novelty and creativity, their effectiveness at addressing significant issues and problems and whether they can be replicated in other jurisdictions.

Easley said he is proud that North Carolina is home to such groundbreaking ideas.

"I am especially pleased that Learn and Earn is being recognized for helping students realize their dream of going to college," he said in a statement.

The Learn and Earn initiative gives students the opportunity to receive a high school diploma and complete an associate's degree in five years-all at no cost.

The state's Community Care program is a physician-led Medicaid-managed care program. It provides service to more than 745,000 patients. The program was selected because of its broad scope, O'Sullivan said.

"We're just very pleased to be recognized at this point and we hope that we'll make it into the final recognized group, but just getting into the top 50 is an accomplishment and we're happy to be there," said Denise Levis, CCNC senior consultant and director of quality improvement.

The Ecosystem Enhancement Program works to compensate for unavoidable environmental damage to North Carolina wetlands and waterways. This is the second time in three years the program has been named in the top-50 list.

In the 44 months the organization has existed, it has facilitated environmental preservation without delaying transportation projects, said Tad Boggs, director of communications for the Ecosystem Enhancement Program.

"We're hoping to move ahead in the competition based on the incredible results we've been getting," Boggs said.

Eighteen finalists, chosen from among the 50, will be announced May 4 during Public Service Recognition Week.