State Spotlight: North Carolina

Tim Johnson
Director, NC Center for Geographic Information and Analysis (CGIA), NC Department of Information Technology

Interviewed by Scott Bennett | February 18, 2020

North Carolina Center for Geographic Information and Analysis (CGIA) Director Tim Johnson has been working in GIS for 39 years and has been at his current agency in North Carolina for more than three decades.

Johnson’s interest in GIS started from a young age; he’d had an affinity for maps since he was a boy. He majored in geography as an undergraduate at Appalachian State University, where he took a couple of programming courses and started looking for ways to combine geography and computing. He found the GIS field through reading at the university library and other places. Johnson then pursued a master’s degree at the State University of New York at Buffalo and was fortunate to have studied with some of the early pioneers in the GIS field.

He first came to CGIA in 1988 and says that over the past 30 years, technology has changed dramatically. The evolution from small scale to large scale data, from obscure and sometimes difficult technology changing to widespread use with easier tools, and greater accessibility of the data and technology has been overall very positive but also presents its own new challenges for those people responsible, like Johnson, for it at the state level. The biggest jump has been from standalone systems to an internet-centric presence for geospatial data over those three decades.

The biggest success related to GIS in North Carolina, says Johnson, have been “the investments made by all one hundred North Carolina counties and many state agencies, along with support from federal agencies at key points over the past three decades. This helped create a strong foundation for using GIS as a tool to support decisions that affect all North Carolinians.” The willingness of these groups to work together has been very gratifying and important to Johnson.

Johnson also recognized the contributions of the NC Parcels team made up of local and state government partners. This group committed to a goal of achieving a 100-county statewide dataset through collaboration with the individual counties and the NC Geographic Information Coordinating Council. Seed funding through a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency helped get it off the ground. The team achieved its goal and the dataset is being sustained on a regular basis with updates twice per year with a goal of increasing that frequency.

Johnson is most excited about the evolution of unmanned aircraft systems and their application to state and local government business (and outside government as well). “There are applications to environmental monitoring, disaster impact assessment response, and many other areas. Both the technology and policy aspects are important.” Johnson is also interested in supporting the implementation of the Geospatial Data Act with North Carolina playing an active part in it.

NSGIC has always been important to North Carolina, says Johnson. NC is a charter member of the organization dating all the way back to 1991. He went on to say, “North Carolina believed then and still believes that collaboration and sharing with other states is key in creating a common voice to represent the state perspective at the national level.” Johnson enjoys participating in NSGIC to discuss common issues with his peers in other states, learn from their successes, and share both successes and challenges.

He shared, “NSGIC is a critical part of the geospatial picture and it has provided tremendous value to North Carolina as we have pursued geospatial goals. North Carolina has made a solid contribution to the bigger picture as well since the state was an early adopter of GIS at the state government level over 40 years ago.”

On a personal note, Johnson is a former high school distance runner. Along with running, he enjoys mountain biking and hiking. In the winter, he is a big college basketball fan. He and his wife also enjoy family time and being entertained by their two basset hounds. Johnson enjoys traveling outside of North Carolina to experience other places - with favorites being Maine, Vermont, and Italy – so far!

To learn more about GIS in North Carolina, visit the NC Geographic Information Coordinating Council and NC OneMap


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