Home Column Disrupted: The future of the Hudson Valley economy

Disrupted: The future of the Hudson Valley economy

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The Hudson Valley, 2027. A massive Amazon distribution center on a hill hums at midnight with the clinking sounds of robots rhythmically picking products off shelves and packing them onto autonomous trucks and large drones for delivery across the region. A few human supervisors and robot repair technicians make their way about the warehouse floor, working side by side with artificially intelligent (AI) technology all around them.

Four hours earlier, a young woman walks off an autonomous train and into an autonomous Uber shuttle. She sits back, as her AI-connected device asks a series of personal questions, such as “What would you like for dinner on Friday?” and “Do you want me to convert the sales data from Beijing into a presentation for tomorrow’s meeting with Jennifer?” The dinner ingredients will come together from multiple farms around the world, in the same way Jennifer is part of a team comprised of just-in-time, global contractors basing business decisions on machine-generated algorithms rather than pure gut or prior experiences.

In this future, science fiction is science fact, as disruptive technologies are changing and enhancing, but not destroying, the fabric of daily life. In the early 1900s, 40 percent of American workers were employed in agriculture. By 2000, only 2 percent were. Automation and technology flipped the equation and so many farmers simply moved into other career paths, taking this country’s economy to new, once-unimaginable heights. 

“Disruption” is either a dirty word, a battle cry or describes the current volatile political and social atmosphere. Pick your poison. Every company, consultant and contractor is feeling the impact from disruptive technologies permeating literally every corner of their personal and professional lives. From Uber to Airbnb, from Amazon to Blue Apron, the on-demand, shared economy is either leaving a path of destruction in its wake or, depending on your worldview, waking up sleepy industries once immune to competition by changing consumer habits.

According to the Pew Research Center, 72 percent of all Americans have used some type of shared or on-demand online service. Economics professors from Harvard and Princeton recently reported 94 percent of new job growth over the past decade occurred in “alternative work arrangements” such as freelancers, temporary workers, on-call workers and contractors. University of British Columbia professor Henry Siu found the share of Americans working in routine jobs — often middle-class work based on a relatively narrow set of repeated tasks — has fallen from 40.5 percent in 1979 to 31.2 percent in 2014. And, according to a McKinsey study, 45 percent of the activities workers perform globally could be automated using existing technology, including significant pieces of work currently performed by financial managers, doctors and senior executives. The signs are all around us for this pending revolution, as emerging economic trends are taking shape and converging throughout the nation.

As the leading economic development organization for the region, Hudson Valley Economic Development Corp. is ever vigilant and keenly aware this is not your parents’ economy emerging in the Hudson Valley. As creator of many award-winning industry-cluster development initiatives, such as the Hudson Valley Food & Beverage Alliance, we foresee the day when a locally produced craft beverage or specialty food producer will use the phrase “Made by human hands” as a product differentiator. The region’s economic future may be driven more by bits and bytes than blood and bone.

We are once again as a society redefining the meaning of gainful employment and productive engagement within the U.S. economy, if not the global economy. 

The first automated teller machines were installed 50 years ago. There are now 420,000 of them in the U.S. alone; yet, according to an International Monetary Fund analysis, the number of human tellers did not drop, but actually rose slightly. Customer service and face-to-face interaction won over zeros and ones.

Protecting jobs from being automated away will require all of us to become innovative and disruptive in different and exciting ways — impacting everything from early childhood education to the way we construct cityscapes and connect to the countryside. From top to bottom, the Hudson Valley, like the entire nation, must completely rethink the way we live, work and play, as well as tax, talk, walk, fight, buy, broker, invest and divest ourselves of the past. 

Positive change always starts with a conversation. That is why we are hosting DISRUPTED: The Future of the Hudson Valley Economy on June 23 at SUNY New Paltz, featuring a one-on-one interview with a prominent disruptor, Dennis Crowley, co-founder of Foursquare and founder of the Kingston Stockade Football Club. We will continue the conversation with a panel of regional tech and gig-economy experts who will assist all of us in mapping out the terrain for exploring this new world.

Ultimately, we may not drive the bus, but we can control where we end up. That just takes a little disruptive thinking.

Laurence P. Gottlieb is president and CEO of Hudson Valley Economic Development Corp. in Goshen He can be reached at lgottlieb@hvedc.com.

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