Let’s face it, forecasting long into the future with and degree of certainty is difficult to do. The Jetsons originally aired in the 60s and envisioned personal air travel and all kinds of other automated conveniences that are yet to appear. We have certainly moved in the direction of more automation, and while we don’t have affordable robot housekeepers (yet), Rumba vacuum cleaners are beginning to clean our living rooms, and cars are driving themselves. This dramatic advance in technology raises questions about the future of employment and creates angst in labor markets.
Twenty years ago we feared that Japanese manufacturing would put U.S. workers out of work, and, more recently Chinese economic expansion made headlines. Today, we face AI and automation. History, however, suggests employment is a story of creative destruction and that the number of jobs is limited by the number of people willing to work, not trade or automation. Imports have increased as shipping costs have fallen through the use of advanced methods of transport. Yet, employment opportunities remain and the unemployment rate is near record lows. We should remember that progress has meant the motorized carriage has replaced the horse drawn ones, iTunes has replaced the album, and central heat has turned fireplaces into novelties. Progress doesn’t reduce the number of jobs, it changes the nature of work.
So how might Wilmington fare in this technology driven future? It’s hard to say as technology is both a complement and substitute for labor, but the potential is certainly there for our community to thrive. Education is no longer a stage but a continual endeavor; just think about each time a new version of windows or office is released, and we all have to learn the menus over again! As AI revolutionizes our lives some existing work will become obsolete, but new opportunities will present themselves.
Wilmington is well position to succeed in the transition with UNCW and CFCC providing opportunities for continual growth and retooling throughout a career. The Cameron School of Business is already investing in the infrastructure to support lifelong learning through the expansion of online class offerings and the Swain Center’s expansion of executive and professional programs. In addition, as talent continues to concentrate in urban areas, the Wilmington region can build off a strong intellectual base, a thriving business community, and cultural amenities including the beaches, the riverfront, an arts scene, and an exploding craft beer movement adding to the essence of place. While the Port City is geographically isolated by a rural expanse and the Atlantic to the east, these distances are shrinking as technology is allowing for larger ships, faster and cheaper air travel, and climate controlled, luxury entertainment boxes on wheels, otherwise known as cars. So while there will undoubtedly be frustrations, just like when we learn a new version of windows, the new operating systems of the future should be much better versions of today if we’re willing to accept change and learn how to make it work.
To hear more about the short and medium run outlooks for the region, make sure to mark your calendar for the Swain Center’s Outlook Conference on October 5th with regional and national economic outlooks, a financial outlook from Brian Daley – equity research head with U.S. Trust, Bank of America Wealth Management and a regional logistics panel including Julie Wilsey – airport director, Wilmington International Airport, Paul Cozza – executive director, NC State Ports Authority, and Danny McComas – member of the NC Board of Transportation.