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March 7, 2019 9:19am

GLI Ushers in “Year of Tech” at Annual Meeting

Did you miss the annual meeting? You can read Kent Oyler’s speech below, introducing GLI’s 2019 “Year of Tech” initiative, as well as ways to get involved.


Early last year a list was published online.  A short list.  It contained the names of what could be considered the 20 cities most prepared to embrace the economy of the future.  New York, Dallas, Atlanta, Denver, Miami, DC.  The booming money centers that everyone would expect.  Also, on the list were smaller places like Nashville, Raleigh, Cincinnati and Indianapolis. Not on the list, Louisville.


That list was of course Amazon’s 20 finalists for their second headquarters. HQ2.


Like each of the 238 cities that submitted, Louisville had put forth a very credible proposal.  We had not one, but 3 original videos, award-worthy graphics, great real estate options, and competitive incentives, all wrapped into a compelling story.  It was a great proposal, but it wasn’t enough.  When Amazon later provided us with their feedback on why we were cut, they gave only one reason.  It wasn’t our tax structure.  It wasn’t our crime rate or walkability score.  It wasn’t even our educational systems.  It was our workforce, and specifically the small numbers of people working in technology jobs.


And when Amazon announced they would go to New York and DC it wasn’t because those places have great tech colleges or good public schools or low crime rates or low cost of living.  It was because they have large populations of people already working in tech jobs.  People they could immediately poach from other companies, knowing that others would move in to fill the openings.


The lesson here is that if we wish to attract fast-growing tech companies like Amazon to Louisville, we must become a tech town full of people working in tech fields.


The Brookings Institution said after the Amazon announcement “Cities that didn’t win should take up the challenge of growing a digitally-oriented workforce at scale through significant investments in training, and  grow technically advanced jobs from within their current employer base.


You might ask, why is it important for us to attract and create fast-growth tech companies here in Louisville; we’ll never be Silicon Valley or Austin.  After all, aren’t we a manufacturing and distribution center?  Don’t we have a great aging care cluster.  And we have Bourbonism.  Why yes, we do, and those sectors are all doing very well today and will continue to do well in the future.


The reason we must turn to tech is summed up in one stunning number; 48%. That is the percentage of jobs in our region that are at risk for disruption or elimination though automation and AI.  That is 391,000 jobs that may not be here in 20 years. Do you hold one of those jobs?  If what you do is at all repetitive or routine you are at risk.  Jobs are a collection of tasks, and machines are very good at doing tasks.  Among the most vulnerable jobs are those in office administration, production, transportation, and food preparation. The type of jobs we have in abundance here.  Such jobs are deemed “high risk,” when over 70% of their tasks are potentially automatable.  In our metro 234,000 jobs are at high risk for automation. The digital wave that is sweeping over us now will reach into pretty much every field, and already is.  Take bank tellers for example.  In 2010, 2,500 people worked in this job code. Today just 1,700 do. That’s a 30% reduction in less than 10 years brought on by ATMs and online banking.


So, will all those people whose jobs are automated simply become unemployed?   No, the new technologies that will eliminate jobs will also create equal or greater numbers of new jobs.  Jobs in blockchain, bioinformatics, robot repair, space travel.   Interesting jobs that challenge and satisfy people and pay more than the manual labor-oriented wages of today.  The future is exciting and bright if we decide to skill up our workforce for these jobs of the future, and not very bright if we don’t.  But remember.  This same discussion is happening in peer cities Tulsa, Birmingham, Memphis, Dayton, and St. Louis.  We are in a competition like no other for the companies and jobs of the future and we are not yet prepared.


23 years ago, Ross Boyle delivered a landmark report to this community.  In it he laid out 10 strategies to make Louisville a hot spot for the 21st century.  He recommended a merged city-county government, and we did it.  He recommended building two bridges, and we did it.  He recommend creating an EnterpriseCorp to foster an entrepreneurial community, and we did it.  But when it came to Boyle’s recommendations to create new technology-focused business clusters, upgrade our educational systems, and reskill our workforce, we didn’t follow through.  Looking back we can see that those recommendations were the most important in his report for our economic prosperity.


They say the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.  And the second-best time; today.  Well, today is our time to finally get serious about creating a workforce of the future.  One with strong digital skills, strong soft or essential skills, and one that can continuously adapt and learn the new skills necessary to thrive in an economy experiencing exponential change.


To help moving down this path GLI is declaring 2019 to be the ‘year of technology’.  Starting with this event tonight and our keynote speaker, futurist Thomas Fry, we will be shining a spotlight on efforts to build our digital future. To foster bold expectations we will be taking our GLIDE trip in September to San Francisco and the Silicon Valley to see tech at scale.  We will be operationalizing LEAP, which is our big new partnership with UofL, LHCC and Xlerate Health to reinvigorate tech-based entrepreneurship. We will continue to build on the success of the JCPS Academies of Louisville where over 100 companies have engaged in shaping the workforce of tomorrow.  We will work with Mayor Fischer and KentuckianaWorks to implement aggressive new technology skills training goals.  And we will be looking for ways to stand up and grow a tech cluster and a tech ecosystem that includes the 20,000 people already working in our regions existing 1300 tech companies.


This work will not be easy and it will not happen fast.  We’ll need your help. Moving forward we as employers must own our workforce issue.  Not just for our community, but for the very survival of our companies. If you aren’t already, please get engaged with the JCPS Academies.  Hire a high school kid though SummerWorks, or a college intern.  Set up a paid pilot with one of our many entrepreneurial companies.  And make sure your own company has plans in place to attract and grow the technology talent you’ll need to grow your business.  Because every job today and in the future requires tech skills.


The cities and companies that embrace the threats and opportunities of emerging technologies will thrive in the future, and those that don’t will decline.  It’s that simple.  Amazon’s short list was the first of many to come.  Those that make the cut have a very bright future.  Let’s never miss the cut again.