By Dean Whittaker

For those of us in the economic development profession, we like to think that place matters. And, I would argue that it does. According to David Houle, in his TEDx Pittsburgh and TEDx Sarasota talks, place shapes who we are. To a degree, it shapes our primary language, the foods we eat, our beliefs, and the way we think. At one point in history, place is what separated us. Distance mattered. Great civilizations developed in different parts of the world simultaneously and were unaware of each other.

Technology has changed the landscape. We now occupy two worlds; the physical and the virtual. My company maintains physical offices in Holland, Michigan and Kathmandu, Nepal. Time and distance no longer limit our ability to communicate. Our collaborative work is done in space – cyberspace. Our team meetings are held there, our work is done there, we serve our clients there, and even wars are being fought there.

Technology has reduced time and distance to a fraction of what it once was. We have entered a transition period unlike any other point in history. For example, there are 5.6 billion cell phones in the world that have helped us overcome time and distance. We have become globally connected, shifting power (political and economic) from the organization to the individual. The individual is now the economic unit.

Education is about to undergo a fundamental shift as well. Recently, I took an online class on to learn how to create a WordPress website and blog. I did it in a few hours on the Internet. In the past, I would have located a workshop, gone to the location of the workshop, and spent a few hundred dollars and a day or two of my time. Now, I log into my local library, go to their website resource page, click on, select the WordPress for Beginners session, and in a few hours, I have created my new website blog, The Future of Work. How cool is that?!

Most of us don’t care much for change, especially us older folks. However, every institution that survives during this time of transition will undergo changes in form, nature, appearance, and character. Would you like to see what changes are happening in economic development? Take a look at Anatalio Ubalbe’s talk on “Innovation in Economic Development.”

Change is going to happen. In fact, it is accelerating and happening at an exponential (logarithmic) rate rather than linear (straight line). By that, I mean change is compounding itself, primarily driven by technology which is also changing at an exponential rate.

Now, we can lament change, wish things were like they use to be, and continue to spend time and energy resisting it. Or we can embrace it. Change is inevitable. It is built into the design of the universe. Do we resist the change of the seasons? Well, maybe, but they change anyway. As Miguel de Unamuno said, “We should try to be the parents of our future rather than the offspring of our past.” The choice is ours. What do you say?