Economic growth, a mysterious “new normal,” and emerging disruptive forces can combine for stimulating, and sometimes depressing, dialogue for leaders who are tasked with making decisions for their businesses, governments, and communities. Urbanization is moving quickly all across the globe. By 2025, 46 of the top 200 cities will be in China, according to research done by the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), an international think tank. Global companies have more than doubled since 1990, and emerging companies will focus on increasing revenue rather than increasing profits.
One of the tools fostering such growth is technology. In a presentation to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ (MWCOG) board of directors last weekend, McKinsey staff noted that it took radio 38 years to reach 50 million users; television took 13 years. Today, it took Facebook just one year, and Twitter nine months, to reach the same numbers! Invention and innovation will combine to create newer products and uses, just as they have with the smartphone and autonomous vehicles. Social media usage is forecast to grow exponentially. Google searches already are in the billions, along with thousands of not-always-accurate English-language articles on Wikipedia. Digitalization of services will be in ever-greater demand, although some industry sectors, such as construction, agriculture, and hunting, still will rely on the human body to perform the work.
Workforce training, needed to provide qualified hires in our increasingly technology-focused economy, especially in our area, will continue to be a struggle. The Northern Virginia Regional Commission (NVRC) convened a meeting last week that included representatives from local public school systems. The good news is that new cybersecurity career pathway courses have been approved by the Virginia Department of Education for the coming school year. The bad news is that too few certified teachers of the courses have been identified or hired. More work needs to be done to train business experts, whose entire careers may have been in cybersecurity or related fields, for the classroom. The school and business representatives at the meeting agreed to work together to find ways to make that happen, and report back in September.
It’s no secret that the Washington metropolitan area is expected to increase by more than one million population and a similar number of jobs by 2040. And it’s no secret that our population is aging. By 2040, according to MGI, about one in four people globally will be age 65 or older. North America, Europe, China and, curiously, Chile, lead the roster of older population, followed by Russia, Australia, and most of Latin America. Africa, India, and the ancient Silk Road region will have a smaller share of elderly persons. How to compete, or coordinate, in the shifting global economy; figuring out how local and regional policy actions might complement national policy actions, or vice versa; and responding to accelerating change rapidly and flexibly will require strategic foresight — and a lot of hard work — to move our region forward to 2040 and beyond.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at [email protected]