MONROE, Ga. — Chris Clark came to Walton County on Thursday with bit of advice on how to essentially future-proof the local economy.
Clark, president and CEO of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, spoke to the Walton County Chamber of Commerce at its monthly business luncheon about the state chamber’s newest inititative.
“Two years ago, pre-COVID, we started an initiative called the New Georgia Economy,” Clark said. “We predicted all sorts of things. I missed one thing, though. ‘Global pandemic’ was not on my list.”
Yet Clark said the COVID-19 lockdown, closures and the various other side effects had a strange affect on many of the future predictions they’d anticipated via the program over the next five to 10 years.
“So many of the predictions simply accelerated because of COVID,” Clark said.
Issues such as early retirements, women pulling out of the workforce, extensive resignations in the search for better pay and benefits than offered at low-paying jobs, all have become more vital than ever due to the pandemic, which has seen such numbers shoot up in the wake of the COVID-19 worries.
Clark mentioned several economic sign posts likely to appear in the next five to 30 years. By 2025, for instance, he said 20% of all jobs are likely be done from home, while 27% of all retail sales will be conducted over the internet.
Compare that to 2040, when the chamber expects 95% of all retail to be via e-commerce. The transition to electric vehicles is also predicted to skyrocket in the coming years. From a mere 7% of the nationwide vehicle pool in 2025, the chamber predicts nearly 96% of all vehicles in the nation will be electric by 2050.
With similar increases expected in the need for power and automation replacing existing jobs, Clark said the job of the state chamber, as well as the local chamber, is to start working to mitigate the effects of things that haven’t happened yet.
“We have to be prepared,” Clark said. “There are opportunities here. There are risks here.”
Georgia is back on an upswing following the worst of the pandemic, he said. The state is in its eighth year of being ranked the top state in the nation for business, with $10.9 billion in capital invested in Georgia this year, nearly 400 new business locations moving here and more than 33,000 jobs created year to date.
Clark said there are issues to face in the future, from climate change to political polarization, that could further affect economic affairs.
Two that worry him the most are the rising influence of China on global markets and the growing skills gap between prospective employees fresh out of school and the job market which they enter.
Overall, though, he said it was important everyone did what they could to keep working toward the future to address whatever challenges it will contain.
“We are starting to develop the right strategies and the policies to address these issues,” he said.