As if last week’s downturn in the stock market did not offer enough proof, speakers at The Columbian’s Economic Forecast Breakfast focused upon the obvious: Be prepared for an altered economic landscape.
“Don’t underestimate the speed and magnitude of change that’s coming,” emphasized panelist Bruce Cazenave, CEO of Nautilus, a Vancouver-based fitness equipment maker. “Step into the change instead of resisting. … Embrace the feeling of discomfort.”
Cazenave was speaking specifically to business leaders and policymakers, the kind who must deal with disruptive technologies and an evolving economy. About 640 such people attended the annual forecast breakfast, setting a record for the 29-year-old event that focuses upon the coming year in Southwest Washington. But he also was offering sound advice for those whose business acumen is limited to following the performance of their particular stocks.
For those people, the past week brought about a feeling of discomfort fueled by uncertainty in the global economy. Economic unrest in China and falling worldwide oil prices led to a downturn in U.S. markets that had investors feeling a financial pinch; on the other hand, falling oil prices can be beneficial for consumers when they fill up at the pump. In other words, the economy is an intertwined, unpredictable combination of factors that are largely beyond the control of business leaders or government officials. Which brings us back to the original premise: Expect the unexpected.
“I like to say embrace change before it embraces you,” Greg Goodwin, CEO of luxury car dealer Kuni Automotive, said at the forecast breakfast. “My choice from the beginning was to jump on the bus instead of off the bridge.”
Such decisions could determine the future of Clark County’s economy, which will continue to grow and thrive if the region focuses on broad-based and forward-thinking industries. While the area once relied upon heavy industry in its urban core and agriculture in outlying areas, today’s economy demands diversity. As Tim Worstall wrote for Forbes in 2012: “Manufacturing is going the way of agriculture, it is simply shrinking as a part of our economy. Not just the U.S. economy, but the U.K., China’s and yes, even as part of the global economy.” That calls for the development of a variety of businesses and calls to mind a series published by The Columbian in 2004 that surmised: “National studies show jobs are created and economies stimulated by supporting the arts and a creative workforce.”
Yes, some manufacturing is necessary, and construction will remain a foundation of any growing business sector. But modern economies also require the type of businesses that can respond to the changing demands of consumers. As Kim Capeloto, an executive vice president of Riverview Community Bank, noted: “We’ve had no choice in every industry to figure out how to morph into what people need today. People want to do business the way they want to do business, not the way entities want to do business.” That always has been true, but the speed with which the metamorphosis occurs has increased during the digital age.
And so the consensus is clear: Change will be the defining characteristic of the Clark County economy for 2016 and for the foreseeable future. And the regions that are best prepared to embrace that change are the ones that will thrive.