The story of how economic development should be conducted has been rewritten more times than a failed Hollywood movie script. However, in these times of sector consolidation, climate change, robotics and AI, and other challenges, still another reinterpretation is needed to stave off obsolescence of place.

One way of approaching multiple challenges to local economies is to attempt to anticipate them analytically and then plan accordingly, and there are consultants who promise to be able to help with this.[1] Once multiple potential disruptions are introduced, however, attempting to model all their interactions can quickly overwhelm both analytical designs and the possibility of extracting meaningful output from any such model – if it were to be launched, however inadvisably.

Less aggressive, more traditional modeling can nevertheless add to the foundation for meaningful deliberation of potential disruptions in light of the current local-to-worldwide economy, and for devising appropriate strategic responses. Stakeholders can also consider applying the Scenario Planning concept to structure and analyze multiple plausible versions of a future. One aspect of this framework [2] is to explicitly acknowledge that there can still be appropriate preparations for addressing even an unpredictable future (perhaps unmodelable future as well, at least in some ultimate form).

Beyond these kinds of approaches, the presence of a generally disruptive development environment suggests the following strategic directions, focused on readiness of the community and its workforce:

  • Taking steps to help ensure the community overall looks and functions as well as possible, while establishing and maintaining resiliency in infrastructure, services, and budget.

  • Orienting policy makers to the possibility that “experiments” in using surpluses for infrastructure, for social safety nets in the face of mass layoffs due to automation, and for repurposing economic assets may be desirable locally, or, more likely, imposed from above out of necessity. Communities may find themselves judged on their attractiveness based on how they have responded to these kinds of programmatic pressures.

  • Ensuring that education and workforce training resources are robust as well as flexible, and where possible students/trainees learn also to be creative problem-solvers and otherwise prep themselves to anticipate changing skill requirements, economic sector focus, and the like.

Finally, local economic developers will benefit from renewed commitment to ongoing self-retraining to stay abreast of emerging and evolving economic trends of the types mentioned herein. While our scholarship on the subject is by no means exhaustive, readers are welcome to discuss this topic with us through our usual contact channels.


[1] Including ourselves, although we approach this on a deliberately incremental basis.

[2] Robert Goodspeed, “Scenario Planning: Embracing Uncertainty to Make Better Decisions” (paper), Lincoln Institute of Land Policy ( March, 2019.