Tom Gillaspy says communities need to plan for change
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This past Thursday at Bootlegger’s Supper Club, several dozen community members turned out for a presentation by former state demographer of 30-plus years, Tom Gillaspy, PhD, hosted by the Granite Falls Area Community Foundation.
Those in attendance gave mixed reviews to the talk, some individuals finding the information very insightful while others felt that they heard a reiteration of data they were already aware of and which did not provide sufficient analysis of specific-to-the-area trends.
Gillaspy’s presentation, Demographic Change and the Granite Falls Area, was sprawling, touching upon the creation of the Boomer generation following World II and how the major influx of births in the period following, in conjunction with the technological developments of today, will impact things looking into the future.
“We live in totally remarkable time unlike anything else in U.S. History,” he said, adding: “Old ways of thinking about things may not carry over into the future.”
At present, the baby boom generation is getting ready to reach retirement creating circumstances in which the available U.S. Labor workforce is expected to decline for the first time in the nation’s history by the end of the decade, said the former state demographer.
This brings about several issues for rural areas, as the number of individuals available in the workforce declines making laborers and talent harder to come by in general––at a time when rural populations have declined dramatically across the country. Exacerbating the issue, Gillaspy said, is that the older generations are proving to be more adverse to risk (and prone to hoarding their money), which is inconsistent with country’s legacy.
Other issues that Gillaspy suggested might be relevant for the area is the woefully unprepared health care system (particularly deficient in doctors) as well as the tertiary ag-age structure of the agricultural sector, which suggests that the children of today’s farmers are moving away from the farm and not interested in farming.
To prepare for these changes, Gillaspy said that communities need to prepare themselves for a future where jobs can be performed from any location, where disruptive events, environmental and technological, are more frequent and where quality and innovation are the key components in determining success.
“The (businesses) who think they're the best, they’re the ones about to go under,” said Gillaspy, alluding to the importance of being adaptable in today’s rapidly changing world.
Asked after the presentation what he believes should be the number one priority for the Granite Falls area going forward, “The community needs a vision,” he said.