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Each week, WFAE's "Morning Edition" hosts get a rundown of the biggest business and development stories from The Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter.

Local colleges increase cybersecurity programs to meet growing demand

Pete Linforth

If you’re looking for a job change or are just beginning your career, here’s one possibility: cybersecurity expert. According to the website Cyberseek.org, there are more than 714,000 cybersecurity job openings in the U.S., with about 30,000 of them in the Carolinas. And, North Carolina colleges are responding to the demand.

That’s according to the Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter. For more, WFAE's Marshall Terry talks to the Ledger’s Tony Mecia.

Marshall Terry: Tony, why is cybersecurity so in demand right now?

Tony Mecia: Marshall, I think we've all seen the reports of all the hackers that are putting in ransomware and, you know, getting a hold of personal data, posting it on the dark web, that kind of thing. There's just so much that's online now that's very attractive to hackers. And so it's creating this demand on the other side to say, listen, we need some good guys here who understand technology to understand the risks and to work for companies, governments to help prevent a lot of these, you know, incursions that we have from hackers.

During the pandemic, there have been about 260,000 or so jobs added in cybersecurity. But there's still a huge demand, as you mentioned, with more than 700,000 job openings in the U.S. right now.

Terry: So how are colleges responding to the demand?

Mecia: Well, a lot of them are creating and expanding their cybersecurity programs, even colleges here locally. There's a lot of grant money that's out there right now to support a lot of these programs and a lot of this training. A few examples, at UNC-Charlotte, in the last five years, they've just about quadrupled the number of students that are in their cybersecurity programs. They do an annual symposium and job fair on cybersecurity.

Gaston College — they received a $2 million grant this year. They are expanding some of their programs.

And, Central Piedmont Community College — it's gone in the last seven years from about 18 students to about 130.

Terry: OK, let’s talk now about the business you and I are in, the news. The Ledger reports the Charlotte Observer’s new bot writer has put out nearly 200 real estate articles in the last week. Tony, what’s a bot writer?

Mecia: Well, it's sort of shorthand for using artificial intelligence to write articles. You know, artificial intelligence, Marshall has really come a long way. It can do a lot of things now that humans in the past were accustomed to doing, and that includes writing news articles. As long as you have a good data source, you're now able to create computer programs that can write news articles.

And so The Observer did this. We reported a few months ago had an article that the bot wrote about restaurant health inspections in Mecklenburg County, and in the last week or so it's really trained its eye more on real estate articles, doing nearly 200 articles on real estate closings, closings of individual houses, a lot of them house sells for $410,000 in Charlotte, things that are fairly ordinary, but these are all written by a computer.

Terry: So with these bot writers does that mean you and I will be out of the job soon?

Mecia: Well, Marshall, you're, of course, irreplaceable, and I hope I am, too. I mean, you know, technology can do a lot of things. It still has not proven to be able to do some higher-level brain functions. The things that are creative, that require judgment and decision making, it can get close to those, but not quite fully replace humans in everything we do. So I'm hopeful that for now, your job is safe, and I hope mine is too.

Terry: What’s been the reaction from readers to bot writers? And what is the Observer saying about using these bot writers?

Mecia: The Observer posted about 45 of these articles on Facebook over the Labor Day weekend, and a lot of readers seem to be confounded judging by their comments. Some of them said things like, "Why are you doing this?" "Why is this a news story?" One reader even wrote, "OMG, make the bot stop posting already." So, it's a little confounding, you know, why they're doing this? I suppose my guess would be it increases web traffic. It's something that doesn't require a human reporter to do.

We reached out to the Observer. We reached out to executive editor Rana Cass, and she did not get back to us.

Terry: Let’s go to the university area now. A court his week ruled the Shoppes at University Place is not responsible for a man’s drowning. What can you tell us?

Mecia: In September of 2020, according to court documents with the North Carolina Court of Appeals a man named Gregory Lovett, was out drinking at the Shoppes University Place at Boardwalk. Billy's court documents say he became intoxicated, jumped into the lake at the Shoppes at University Place, got out, and then he jumped in again and his friends weren't able to find him. Police discovered his body the next day. He wound up having a blood alcohol level about five times the legal limit for intoxication.

His estate sued the shopping center, saying there were not any no swimming signs and no barricades preventing him from jumping into the lake and that the shopping center should be held responsible for his death. The Court of Appeals disagreed, said that he was at least partially to blame, and so his estate could not recover from the shopping center.

Terry: Finally Tony, you report some changes are coming to uptown. The clock at One Wells Fargo Center at the corner of College and 3rd is coming down. What’s going on with that?

Mecia: Yeah, Marshall, this is part of a larger project there to redo that area. The owner of Wells Fargo Center Vision Properties is renovating that tower and that area. We got some renderings to show that they're going to actually put in a little more green space, and make it look a little more attractive.

They say they want to build an environment that meets the needs of the workforce. A lot of times that's more, you know, hanging out kind of space. The renovations are expected to be finished by the end of this year.

Support for BizWorthy comes from Sharonview Federal Credit Union, UNC Charlotte's Belk College of Business and our members.

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Marshall came to WFAE after graduating from Appalachian State University, where he worked at the campus radio station and earned a degree in communication. Outside of radio, he loves listening to music and going to see bands - preferably in small, dingy clubs.