Are you in?

By: Shannon McClure, Director – Research Services, Greater Omaha Chamber

Nationally-known and loved futurist and economist Rebecca Ryan, founder and owner of Next Generation Consulting, headlined this year’s Economic Outlook Luncheon. Were you there? What did you think?

Ryan is dedicated to helping cities and companies think around the corner to what’s next, she left the record-setting crowd of over 800 with plenty to ponder. The most exciting takeaway, you ask?

We are poised to take over the craft beer industry! Ryan’s theory is that the numerous craft breweries in California may head to the Great Plains for our abundant water resources if this whole drought thing continues in the “golden state”. (And we’re ready for ‘em! Cass County is already well on its way.)

Seriously, though, here are some jewels that our friend Rebecca shared:

“You can’t predict the future. That is true. What we can do is – we can ask, ‘What is plausible? What are the plausible futures?’ These are the things we have to lead against.”

Ryan talked about economic cycle theory, i.e. based on the work of economists Kondratiev and Schumpeter (dig deep down, back to those college economics classes), the U.S. goes through roughly 20-year periods of time that follow the order of the seasons. Right now, we’re in winter—a time marked by recession and/or depression, sometimes mired in pessimism or the “psychology of doom”. But listen: Spring is just around the corner! Winter is the time to re-group and take risks. What’s that saying about adversity being the fertile ground of innovation?
Ryan says looking ahead in Winter doesn’t mean strategic planning. It’s about dreaming and imagining.

“The future is not outside of your control. We have the ability to imagine what our possible futures can be and the ability to imagine how we can exert, how we can shape, how we can bend the future into one that you will all value.”

Spring’s coming. If last Tuesday’s audience poll was any indication, Spring might already have broken ground here.. Of more than 800 diners, less than a dozen indicated that they feel firmly stuck in Winter. For everyone else (that would be the majority), the perception was that the thaw has begun. For showtunes fans, that means “happy days are here again” and “everything’s coming up roses”. For the musically challenged, think about a good economic climate and an increase in business production. What is Omaha going to do to make sure we have the first mover advantage when everyone else realizes it’s finally Spring?

“For our next generation, they don’t care if you have an (R) or a (D) or an (I) behind your name, they want to know that you have answers to the actual problems that are plaguing them.”

If you buy the economic cycle theory of the seasons, pay attention to what Ryan discussed about how different seasons call for different kinds of leaders. Winter demands fiscal conservatism, pragmatism and a pull back to reality. But to maximize the opportunities of Spring, we may want to look to elect leaders who are futuristic and maybe even a little bullish.

“At work, you would never set up a performance evaluation for somebody based on things that they can’t control. A good performance evaluation is based on things they absolutely can control or influence. So, we have to make sure, in Omaha, that we don’t hang our identity or our reputation on things that are beyond our control.”

We don’t have mountains. We don’t have an ocean. Those things likely aren’t changing within our lifetime! But what we do have is the ability to capitalize on our core competencies in industries like finance, insurance, defense, biomedical and agribusiness along with strengthening our amazing quality of life. When we get hit with a setback that is beyond our control, we need to do what we always do: pick ourselves up, make a plan, and get moving ahead.

“Demographic changes may be (Omaha’s) greatest challenge because they will upset the norm of how decisions have always been made. … We have to have our hands on the wheel around this. This needs to be a community that is great for all people – not just some people.”

Recent projections show that by 2040, people of color will be the majority in Douglas County and will double from 2010 numbers in all other parts of our region (source: MAPA Heartland 2050), just as in the rest of the nation. Are we really building a town that both embraces ethnic differences and breaks down silos with regard to access? Are there representatives of all of us at the table (including age, gender, ethnicity, orientation, faith) participating and making the decisions about our fate?

“This is not the moment to settle. This is the moment for ambition… Are you in?”

Well, are you?


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