Should We Fight or Embrace the Robot Invasion?

A daily stream of headlines fill my inbox, describing technology advancements as a growing number of researchers, economic developers, and political candidates are discussing the future of work and our new robot coworkers. We’ve reached a tipping point in the understanding of how robots and artificial intelligence are impacting and will impact our lives.

This summer, FedEx will demo their same day delivery robots in Memphis, TN. What may be news to many is that this is not the first autonomous delivery demo, as several other communities are already hosting demos delivering everything from pizza to toilet paper.

Our friends at the Brookings Institution have noted a few compelling facts to consider:

  • “Almost no occupation will be unaffected by the adoption of currently available technologies.
  • Approximately 25 percent of U.S. employment (36 million jobs in 2016) will face high exposure to automation in the coming decades (with greater than 70 percent of current task content at risk of substitution).
  • At the same time, some 36 percent of U.S. employment (52 million jobs in 2016) will experience medium exposure to automation by 2030, while another 39 percent (57 million jobs) will experience low exposure.”

The Fourth Economy team is working with a number of communities to more directly assess the impending impacts and in some cases we have noted that the Brookings estimates are very conservative. The question is, will the businesses in these communities embrace the transformation or be forced to when the economics of legacy systems become unsustainable?

In less urban and smaller communities the economic development and political leadership must start helping their employers transition through the integration of new technology. From training to retooling, companies including manufacturing, logistics, service industries, and really anywhere there is repetition of tasks should be ready for the transformation. Progressive firms will transition, while those slower to respond will be disrupted. This could mean countless jobs lost in communities that need them most.

Some are fighting against the robot invasion, hoping to slow the inevitable progression of the use of technology to improve the economics of business. In doing so, they are putting their communities at risk of the negative impacts that will be experienced from lack of investment to a lack of interest by talent and companies looking to be hosted in a more advanced community. Local leaders must also consider the governance systems impact in their communities. How fast can an autonomous delivery robot travel while on our sidewalks? Does our community’s broadband infrastructure support connectivity? What if someone purposely damages a robot delivery vehicle – do our criminal codes cover this? There is work to be done in figuring out how to manage the future impacts.

You can fight the robot invasion or you can embrace it and plan accordingly. What you can not do is say that you didn’t see it coming. The future of work is being implemented now and I welcome it for these three reasons:

  • Robots and AI will continue to make life better and safer.A primary benefit from the adoption of robotic technology will be the reduction of repetitive tasks, many of which are dangerous and will allow workers to add value rather than burn time. In industries where indoor air quality issues or other environmental impacts are felt by employees, robot technology can take on tasks. For example the auto industry uses robotic arm paint sprayers to coat vehicle versus a small furniture manufacturer employee using a hand sprayer to coat a finishing on a new table.
  • Robots are the bridge to economies of scale. Communities are struggling to find cost effective ways to evolve legacy transit systems to the new realities of where the jobs are verses where people live. Optimized autonomous vehicle networks will be able to lower the cost of the home-work commute and reduce overhead to balance out the cost issues associated with lower density and fewer trips. In addition, autonomous and drone robotic delivery of purchases, including fresh food, medicine and more, can expand the access for both rural and disconnected urban communities.
  • Labor force shortages will drive more investment and quicken the pace of technology adoption. This is where some communities will see great benefits as their companies invest, increase productivity and reap the benefits of their new labor force. We need to plan and training for a transitional labor force rather than waiting for the disruption. Living in Pittsburgh, I hope we all have learned from the previous technology revolutions and be more proactive and progressive in how we approach the advance of this one.

We are at a time where we have a vast amount of information and resources to see what the near term future holds and dream about what is beyond that horizon. We should use the clarity we now have to embrace the transition of our economy, communities and our jobs. I am hopeful that we can use this time to make sure the negative impacts are minimized and we define new opportunities for all to benefit.

Thoughts? Drop us a line…

Fourth Economy’s Chris Ellis Contributes to Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Publication

Fourth Economy’s Social Innovation Strategist, Chris Ellis, recently had a contribution published in a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) book, Knowledge to Action: Accelerating Progress in Health, Well-Being, and Equity. This book is the inaugural volume of a publication series from the RWJF intended to catalyze discussion, engage new partners, and inspire action to build a Culture of Health in America. Chris’ contributions are included in a chapter that focuses on public, private, and nonprofit partnerships. The chapter examines the impact of these partnerships by highlighting Utah’s Pay for Success transaction that expanded access to high-quality preschool services for low-income children; a program that Chris managed before working at Fourth Economy. More information about the book, including ways to purchase it, can be found here.

Pay for Success Explained (and Illustrated)

By Chris Ellis and Sara Blumenstein

At Fourth Economy, we are interested in—and experts in—a new generation of funding mechanisms that are enabling the expansion of interventions with proven results. (See these posts from last year introducing Social Impact Bonds and Three Questions to ask to demonstrate impact.)

The key stakeholders involved in a Pay for Success transaction


Continue reading “Pay for Success Explained (and Illustrated)”

The Four Keys to Effective Collaborations

The Fourth Economy team strongly believes in the power of partnerships in improving community and economic development outcomes. Through our work, we have managed numerous collaborations and identified four keys that lead to effective partnerships.

Patience, Participation, and Partnership

Effective collaboration can be difficult and often takes time. Therefore, it requires that all stakeholders have patience throughout the process of building partnerships and developing solutions. As partnership groups face challenging times, it is critical that they overcome these difficulties together and remain engaged in the effort. One difficulty that may arise is that as individuals and organizations collaborate to further a common purpose, they are typically guided by their own self-interest. These motivations are not always negative and can often support the success of collaborative groups when they are aligned with the goals of the larger partnership. In addition to acknowledging these self-interests, during initial conversations, these groups should identify outcomes and boundaries to focus their work. The group should allow for some flexibility in these areas as issues can change, but too much flexibility will impede the group’s ability to effect change and could cause stakeholders to leave the group. Continue reading “The Four Keys to Effective Collaborations”

The Challenge of Creating Actionable Plans

Burket-Blog-Web-05-2016As part of our work in our hometown of Pittsburgh, we have been digging into all of the plans that have been created over the past five years or so. So far, we’ve found around two-dozen plans, reports, or studies on all manner of community, workforce, and economic development topics. Of those, about five have well-articulated goals, actions, responsible parties, though the form and detail of those components varies from plan to plan. And even with detailed actions, the degree to which those plans are being implemented varies a great deal. Our experience in Pittsburgh is not unique – we see the same trend in the other places that we work. So why is it, that despite our best wishes and intentions, it is so hard to create actionable plans? Continue reading “The Challenge of Creating Actionable Plans”

NIST Announces NMII Competition

Paytas-Blog-20160405Recently, The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) announced the competition to award its first National Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NMII).  Proposers may focus on any advanced manufacturing technology area not already addressed by another institute or open competition. Seven institutes have been funded to date with two currently moving through the review and negotiation process. After attending the Proposer Day session on March 8, 2016, it is clear that many proposal teams have already been formed. Continue reading “NIST Announces NMII Competition”

What Is Not Being Addressed that Will Kill Your Economic Development Strategy

BooksforBlogAt this point I think we are all familiar with the struggles facing Detroit Public Schools, at least on the surface: mushrooms growing in schools, teacher strikes, financial crisis. However, as detailed by this incredibly thorough and thoughtful report by LOVELAND Technologies, 200 years worth of poor decision-making led Detroit to where it is today. This speaks to the need for a new approach to public accountability in our education system. Recognizing the critical role of public education to economic development, in Nashville, it has been the Chamber that has been stepping up to provide that platform for accountability by conducting annual holistic assessments and concrete recommendations for improvement. Continue reading “What Is Not Being Addressed that Will Kill Your Economic Development Strategy”

Big Visions Get Big Dollars in Indiana

IndianaBlogImageOn Tuesday, the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) announced $126 million in state matching funds to support three regions in pursuing their visions for growth. The Regional Cities Initiative was developed based on a study of regions that have experienced transformational growth, performed last year by Fourth Economy, and is being funded by a tax amnesty program. Tuesday’s announcement was the culmination of months of planning on the part of Indiana’s regions, and Fourth Economy was fortunate enough to facilitate and advise on the strategy for two of the winning regions in those efforts – Northeast Indiana (home to Fort Wayne) and Michiana (home to South Bend). Here are a few lessons learned from our work helping multi-county, cross-sector partnerships identify and prioritize quality-of-life investments meant to attract and retain population.
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Fourth Economy Releases 2015 County-by-County Competitiveness Analysis for Pennsylvania

PA-County-Competitiveness-Analysis-FEC-IndexNew analysis highlights the economic competitiveness of counties across the Commonwealth.

HARRISBURG, PA – Fourth Economy Consulting today announced the release of the 2015 Pennsylvania County Competitive Analysis, an assessment of how counties across the Commonwealth are performing economically. At the core, the analysis is based on the company’s Fourth Economy Community Index, which examines both statistical and qualitative factors at the county-level across the U.S. within the economic factors of investment, talent, sustainability, place, and diversity. Continue reading “Fourth Economy Releases 2015 County-by-County Competitiveness Analysis for Pennsylvania”

Trends in Town-Gown Collaboration

Trending-Town-GownToday’s economy elevates the value of higher education institutions to the highest degree of public awareness ever demonstrated. Higher education institutions impact their community in a host of very obvious ways, such as:

  • Supporting the development of 21st century talent armed with skills to drive modern business;
  • Employing a range of professionals in a sector often recognized as the largest in many small communities;
  • and Initiating research and development initiatives supporting the advancement of technology and improved economic performance.

These examples speak to the common ways nearly every institution engages. Yet, what does it mean for a campus to be truly connected to its community? Continue reading “Trends in Town-Gown Collaboration”