By Dean Whittaker

My nature is to wonder.  I wonder about lots of things but mostly about the future. I study social, technological, economic, environmental and political trends. One thing I have been puzzled by is why economic development organizations continue to focus primarily on business attraction when unemployment is at a 50 year low and almost every community has hundreds, if not thousands, of unfilled open positions.  

It would seem to me, that if economic development is about developing the economy of the region being serviced, the focus would shift to talent attraction and addressing the staffing needs of existing employers.  A few economic development organizations (EDOs) have added a staff person to address this issue. Economic Modeling Systems (EMSI) publishes a Talent Attraction Scorecard.  Is your region in the top ten?  If not, what could put it there? 

Here at Whittaker Associates, we have been anticipating this shift for the past four years.  We built a process to predict layoffs of skilled workers and a process to recruit them. It has been a little like “Build it and They Will Come,” like Kevin Costner’s “Field of Dreams” film. So far, the team has not shown up to use the service.  Historically, I often have been too early to the market: In 1981 when I held a seminar, “How to use a PC in Economic Development” only two people registered, Eric Canada and his late wife, Nancy Blane. Long-time friends. So, my question for you is, why are we still using the model of business recruitment and putting energy and creativity into talent attraction and retention? 

Whittaker Associates continues to explore other economic trends, such as the impact electric vehicles will have on the automotive manufacturing industry. The coming disruption to the supply chain will be significant as we move from internal combustion to electric motors and from coal to wind and solar. Our artificial Intelligence virtual assist will change how we work and with whom. Biotechnology, particularly the use of stem cells in regenerative medicine, will begin to change the treatment of age-related illnesses. There will be a demographic shift in the workforce from baby-boomers to a millennials-driven workforce. This will bring about a multi-generational workplace challenge.  Other than that, there is not much going on.

Happy New Year and best wishes for 2020.