What were two members of our Business Development team doing in Little Rock, Arkansas last week, you ask? Reconnaissance. Sounds intense and exciting doesn’t it?

Every year, the International Economic Development Council puts on a number of conferences, one of them being the Future Forum. This year, the Future Forum was held in Little Rock. So what’s with the reconnaissance mission? Well, we are excited to announce that Salt Lake City will host the Future Forum conference in 2019! So of course, our team attended this year to get a lay of the land. (Side note: Little Rock is cute and charming. Lots of fried foods were consumed (chicken and pickles especially), and the stumble upon a tour at the Central High School was fascinating. Oh, and the Clinton Presidential Library was cool too.)



As what the name of the conference would infer, there was some great keynotes and breakout sessions talking about not only the landscape of the economic development field now, but what’s in store in the future. Here are some of the trends talked about throughout the three-day conference:

Infrastructure and automated cars: No Orbit City or The Jetsons yet, but experts at the conference talked a lot about transportation. Mainly, self-driving cars and how that will impact just about every aspect of our lives and the city infrastructure we now know. These experts are pegging 20-30 years for fully automated roadways, with Google already piloting a program in Phoenix (you can learn more here).  What could driver-less cars mean for Salt Lake City? Fewer car accidents (which would mean less busy emergency rooms and hospitals, no need for car insurance, etc)? No more ride-share programs and thousands of those jobs lost (if you could program your car to pick you up and drop you off any given time)? What about parking? The list of questions goes on and on… It’s clear economic developers and organizations across the country – and around the world – are already asking these questions and more, and deciding when and how to shift investment into this future.

Workforce and technology: The future is technology, and that means more and more focus is placed in that industry. With tens of thousands of tech jobs created each year, it’s important for economic development organizations (EDOs) to develop, attract, and retain the workforce to fill those jobs. Arkansas is leading the way on this front. In 2015, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson signed a measure into law that requires all public and charter high school to offer computer science courses. More on this here. As cliche as it – our kids are the future, and EDOs partnering with educational establishments is a must as we look at the future of economic development.

Talent attraction and retention: Typically, EDOs spend a lot of time and resources marketing their city/county/state to site selectors and companies looking to expand, grow, or relocate. As we continue to face a unique challenge in workforce, you’ll see a shift in targeting not just companies, but also the talent directly. Back to partnering with educational establishments – there is a need to draw in talent not only at the collegiate level, but high school, and sometimes middle school levels. And what about the college grads that have left to “cut their teeth” elsewhere? How do we get them back?

As you can see there can be more questions than answers as we look into the future of economic development. But that’s the fun part of our job – looking ahead and working together to make Salt Lake City a great place for everyone to work and play!