Economic Development Annual Conferences Focus on New Tech & How It Will Change Everything
04 November 2019
Autonomous driving cars, artificial intelligence, crowdsourcing and the sharing economy are all examples of how new technology is changing the landscape of our communities. How to anticipate and prepare for these changes was a common theme of the recent Southern Economic Development Council’s Annual Conference in New Orleans, the Texas Economic Development Council's Annual Conference in San Antonio, and the International Economic Development Council’s Annual Conference in Indianapolis . Golden Shovel CEO Aaron Brossoit presented at all three conferences. We interviewed him to explore key takeaways from the conference and his thoughts on the impact new technologies will have on local communities.
Q: How is today’s new technology different from what we have witnessed in years past?
A: The speed at which new technologies are being developed and brought to market is unlike anything I have ever observed. Charles Masters, a VP from IBM spoke at SEDC about how important it is to prepare for the rapid speed at which changes are going to take place. During the presentation, he shared how agile development has changed how quickly projects can be completed. In the past, teams of 100 would develop a project over a year. Now, teams of four to eight are developing applications in a few months. They complete tasks quickly and can put all the new technologies together like Lego blocks. This is a revolutionary change and akin to what Ford did for manufacturing. When everyone is focused on something small and specific that can plug into what others are creating, the whole project can be completed much faster. Such rapid innovation makes it difficult to predict what’s coming next.
Q: Are economic developers concerned about how these changes will impact their communities?
A: Yes, many are. For example, if a community relies heavily on auto manufacturing and self-driving cars are the way of the future, communities have to ask if fewer cars will be manufactured and the impact that may have on their local economy. These are the type of unknowns that are on economic developers' minds. Ultimately, the rate of change makes it more difficult to predict even 5 to 10 years out making it even more important than ever to have a diversified economy.
Q: How do economic developers prepare for the changes that new technologies will bring?
A: It is important to stay informed and to pay attention to what is happening in the tech sector. For example, according to IBM’s CEO, artificial intelligence will affect 100% of the current jobs. Early adaptation of these changes and diversification will help communities withstand major changes in a specific industry.
Q: Are there advantages to new technologies?
A: Most definitely. Some of these new technologies are already making things easier for economic developers. For example, data is now readily available at your fingertips. GIS Planning’s Zoom Prospector tools are a good example of new technology in action. When their tools are integrated into our client’s websites, site selectors can instantly access demographic and real estate data that make it faster and easier to present community information to a client. Reports that could have taken weeks can now be pulled directly from our websites. That’s a huge timesaver that enables economic developers to spend more time building relationships. Another example is SizeUp. Mark Hays showed how most job growth in a community will come from small businesses to the tune of %400. It is impossible to meet all of those businesses in a year, but embedding their tools through an EDO website allows those businesses to get the data they need to make better decisions.
Q: How can economic developers leverage big data to their benefit?
A: That’s an interesting question and something most communities have only begun to do. In reality, big data can be used to help economic developers with their targeting. Chris Knight from WAVTEQ was another presenter at these conferences, showcasing how they collect data on the foreign direct investments made globally. Their tools are helping communities intelligently choose who to target when attracting FDI. US businesses tend to target the same countries like China and Germany, while the data shows there are huge opportunities in countries like Sweden that are being overlooked. By using big data they are helping communities target their marketing and outreach dollars more effectively.
Q: What new technologies were economic developers most excited about?
A: There was a lot of interest in virtual reality and our PlaceVR. With PlaceVR, economic developers can give site selectors a virtual tour of their community, without requiring them to set foot in their county or city. Given how busy site selectors are, this is an excellent way to get in front of more people. Once someone is wearing the VR goggles, they can be taken on a tour of available sites, businesses, Main Street, community festivals and anything that helps to paint a picture of what it is like to work or live in that community. It’s incredible technology that is saving an awful lot of time, money and gas for economic developers. This is what Andrew Phillips from LinkedIn had to say after checking the VR out at the IEDC conference.
Q: What is the most important advice you can give to economic developers who were unable to attend these conferences?
A: Many people are searching and trying to find the right path amidst all this change when there isn’t an obvious one yet. Because of this uncertainty, people are afraid to make the wrong decision. Still, economic developers must determine what industries to focus on and which technologies to use. Their job is to make those decisions and navigate the consequences - good or bad. The key is to create and implement systems that are nimble and responsive to change. At Golden Shovel, we are always assessing what we do to ensure that our technologies can be easily updated and respond to change - whatever that change may be. Our focus is on how new technology will impact the day-to-day operations of economic development offices. So while economic developers are looking outward to their communities, we are looking inward to determine how we can best support them. PlaceVR is a good example of that since it allows economic developers to reach more site selectors, businesses and investors in less time. It’s an exciting time that requires new levels of leadership from economic developers and education is crucial. I hope to see you all next year!
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The Golden Shovel Team