“A-HA” moments,” networking opportunities and, of course, the forecast, were all talking points at the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corp.’s Economic Outlook, an annual tradition that shares innovative talk and a look at what’s to come with the business community.
Keynote speaker Jack Uldrich, a “futurist,” professional author and speaker, shared insights that more than a few found “eye-opening” during his Friday morning talk in the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center at College of the Canyons.
While renowned economist Mark Schniepp, director of the California Economic Forecast in Santa Barbara, discussed the national picture and the concerns ahead before transitioning to California, Uldrich discussed inspiration while sharing a somewhat grim reality for those not willing to innovate.
He used two photographs of a busy New York street to dramatically illustrate his point.
The first photo showed a packed Manhattan thoroughfare in 1903 with one of the world’s first combustible engines chugging along, surrounded by horse-drawn carriages. By 1913, the exact same thoroughfare was covered with cars.
“We may see a thousand-fold change in the next decade — we need to be exploring what this radically different world might look like,” Uldrich said, and trying to emphasize just how fast artificial intelligence can help drive that change, he later shared an idea: “The world that older people spent their entire lives preparing for is coming to an end.”
One of his main thoughts was getting “comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable” in explaining how innovation takes place when a person can stop and look at an issue or challenge from a different perspective and, sometimes, better still, if a whole new perspective is brought in altogether.
The “A-HA” moment comes when individuals combine awareness and humility with action, he said.
Discussing some of the concepts that could provide catalyst for change, he mentioned the importance of leveraging technology, adding that “chief artificial intelligence officer” is likely going to be a C-suite fixture in the near future, because the technology is so potentially impactful that companies not considering its applications stand in danger of being left with the horse-and-buggy crowd.
In bringing the discussion back to mobility, one of the companies he mentioned was Luminar, which is working on technology that would convert current cars to self-driving cars.
If the company proves successful, such a transition could, in theory, create a chain of change that impacts daily life: The driving services used every day like Uber could become replaced by a rental-car-and-AI-driver app — the idea of “mobility as a service,” he said — and in that world, maybe the average family doesn’t need more than one car, he postulated. Such a trend could lead to less of a need for a garage, which could change the next generation of modern home design.
Schniepp’s talk also discussed development in the region more in the short term, as well as how that was impacting the SCV. The California Economic Forecast he founded in 1989 as the private consulting arm of the UCSB Economic Forecast Project has been preparing publications and presentations for more than 25 years.
Don Kimball, executive vice president of Five Point, the area’s largest home developer, said the event was a great reminder on the importance companies need to place on awareness about emerging technologies.
“I thought it was eye-opening, quite frankly, that’s probably a good word to use, that we all get stuck in preconceived notions about how the world functions, and is going to continue to function. And I think there’s a lot of applicability for, quite frankly, for our business for the community-development business, and we need to be looking at how fast the world is changing.”
Tom Cole, director of neighborhood development in Santa Clarita, shared a similar sentiment, mentioning the importance of looking for new perspectives, which was similar to Uldrich’s advice for leaders to be willing to take on reverse mentors, for humility and for fresh ideas.
“It’s always a great thing and insightful to hear professionals like this,” he said, “kind of wake us up, open our eyes to the future and learn from the younger generation.”