The View Ahead Table Set To Grow


    What do you think may emerge as the biggest issue of the next 25 years?


    • Biggest issue for Grand Rapids is, and will be, the need for world-class public education and the relationship of this to the vitality of our region.
    • Continued growth of the bio-tech and high-tech innovative industries.
    • Health care discoveries leading to Grand Rapids becoming a hub for scientific discovery.
    • Continued emphasis on embracing diversity.
    • Between 2004 and 2014, the number of workers age 55 and older will grow at nearly four times the rate of the overall work force. These baby boomers are healthier, more educated and better off financially than any previous generation. They are inclined to work in the so-called retirement years. Large numbers of them want to transition into work that is personally satisfying to them and helps them improve the quality of life in their communities. The challenge for communities is to pave the way for this windfall of talent, experience and commitment. We need to help people transition to encore work, provide supports to make such work feasible, and offer opportunities to translate this potential into solid community problem solving.


    The biggest “issue” which should emerge in the next 25 years may well be the challenge of no work for employment-age Americans. Alvin Toffler and others predicted such a happening about 25 years ago. Then it seemed too far-fetched. 

    Using the history of farming as one point of reference, those futurists saw that in the 19th century, half our population was engaged in “farming” in the broad sense of the word. However, 25 years ago it was obvious that 1 percent to 3 percent of the work force could feed all of us, with huge surpluses. Today, for more than 300 million Americans, that is still true. 

    They then concluded that automation in the manufacturing industries would result in not enough jobs. That was still before the rise of computers, cell phones and more. It was before the rise of knowledge and manufacturing in heretofore Third World countries such as India and China. The world has indeed become “flat.” And with that continuing to grow, where will educated Americans work?


    I think the next 25 years and its success or failure will depend upon our ability to find and develop affordable energy. Energy drives everything, and we can have a highly successful time in West Michigan and Grand Rapids if we have affordable energy.

    We have the entrepreneurial spirit, the creativity and the loyalty of many of our citizens who live in the region.

    Therefore, everything is possible for successful development in business — and society generally — if we can find the energy to propel us forward.


    • Transparency in (health care) price and quality. Provider costs and outcomes increasingly will be visible to the public, which will gain incentives to “shop” for value.
    • Rise of the use of information technology in health care as both a cost containment strategy as well as a quality enhancement.
    • Rise of virtual networks of care and decentralization of “centers of excellence.” Health care providers will be linked electronically to share information and expertise, making it possible to bring the information to the patient’s provider rather than forcing the patient to go to the provider with the needed information or expertise.
    • Medical tourism/competition from less costly and higher quality locations — including foreign sites. Foreign sites increasingly will promote medical tourism, and payment incentives will provide a basis for people to travel for less costly/high quality care when it is to their advantage.
    • Price competition. High-price providers increasingly will be forced to adhere to market realities in pricing their services.
    • Greater personal responsibility for individual health status. People will be held increasingly accountable for personal health behaviors that they can control — such as smoking, seatbelt use, routine check-ups, immunizations, etc. Increasingly, people and their insurers will seek to avoid having costs for treatment of preventable conditions shifted to those who practice good health habits.
    • Personalized medicine — based on chemistry and genetics. The ability to create treatments designed for individuals based on their personal makeup will grow, but the costs may present ethical issues as uninsured and underinsured people are left out.
    • Shortages of key medical personnel. Shortages of nurses and key technologists frustrate the ability to provide quality care. Similarly, a growing shortage of physicians will force either access to care issues or will see increased uses of physician extenders. However, shortages can cause serious challenges for the desires of the community to become a destination for care. In an era of growing transparency and shared information, being a destination will require having the “best” personnel at a time when shortages may result in being lucky to have “any” personnel.


    I’m sure it’s hydrocarbon cost, medical research and the limitations on both. Hydrocarbon will be essentially eliminated as the sources disappear, and America is going to have to go to nuclear power, and/or hydrogen power, and/or battery power, but even if every car became a hybrid … we don’t have enough electric power to even provide enough support for that, so we have limitations on hydrocarbon. … We need all kinds of hydrocarbon research and all kinds of hydrocarbon exploration.

    A big issue of the next 25 years will be more diverse sources of energy, which is going to come from sources we probably haven’t even heard of yet. And there are going to be some heated discussions about Right to Work legislation and enterprise zones that allow Right to Work.

    The biggest problem that’s facing us is taking away the secret ballot from the worker, who now votes in a ballot booth on whether or not he wants a union, to go to the current legislation that allows the union to come visit them in their home and that might be found to be intimidating and discomforting.


    Bloated government, taxing businesses out of business.


    My sense is … having to face a global economy, which I define as the world is now competing with us. Historically, my sense is that we had no competition from the world 25, 30 years ago. What I think is going to be key to our ability to meet those challenges is to be able to manage our understanding of how to do business now with the world. That requires a cultural competency, being able to negotiate in a way that is effective in the culture and with the culture that you are dealing with. We just have to realize that in today’s world, we just can’t do business the way we’ve always done it in America. We now have to negotiate with nations around the world. We have to be what I call “culturally competent,” to be able to know how to negotiate effectively. We can have the best products, but if we can’t convey that and negotiate that in a way that’s valued and embraced in an international market, we’re not going to be able to sell it. The most culturally competent companies and leaders will be successful.


    It is difficult to predict the single biggest issue. Certainly, American energy independence for transportation and domestic usage is a pressing major issue. Middle-class consumer purchasing power will be a major concern, especially as income disparities increase, individual saving rates decrease, and if the recent wealth concentration trend continues. That issue relates to access to education.

    Fifty years ago a person without a college degree could obtain a good paying production or middle management job and receive full benefits and a pension. Twenty-five years ago a person with a college degree was virtually assured of working in middle or upper management if he so desired. Presently, an undergraduate degree alone does not necessarily guarantee desired professional or managerial job opportunities. Thus, widespread consumer purchasing power may decrease, which would have a dramatic effect on the U.S. economy.

    Also, growing economic powers such as China, India and Russia as well as emerging economies in Asia and South America will challenge American dominance in manufacturing and finance. Instant and reliable communications and information will continue to lessen the importance of geographic proximity and social relationships while enhancing the need for positive reputation, brand validity, market acceptance and credible reference/referral sources.

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