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WilmingtonBiz Magazine

Sound Off: One Step Closer To Better

By Adam Jones, posted Dec 8, 2020
Adam Jones
As I indulge in weekends of football es­capism, I can’t help but recognize that the Geico commer­cials about becoming your parents are all too true. 
 
Many of us find ourselves bemoaning the present and fondly remembering yesteryears, never mind the fact that it’s not true.
 
“The country is divided …, China is going to take all our jobs …, the youth of today think they know everything, and they don’t even know what good music is …”
 
We heard all these concerns growing up too, except the words came out of someone else’s mouth, and it was Japan that was going to steal our jobs.
 
On average, the world is a better place today than ever before. We just need to slow down and appreciate that while better today, the best is yet to come.
 
Yes, the current pandemic is causing stresses, but imagine the pandemic without the internet and modern medicine.
 
The growth in living standards is a lot like the growth of children; each day looks awfully similar to the previous, but stop looking for a few years, and the world won’t even be recognizable. Vehicles are a great example of this incremental process over time, “Does that have a CD player in it?” was a question asked in awe during the early 1990s and is now asked as a form of derision.
 
The obsoleting of the CD player is but one example of a world vastly improved from the past where one had to remember telephone numbers, put a key in the car or, heaven forbid, actually light the fireplace using a match.
 
While these examples are superficial, there are many other ways in which the world has improved. Death from heart disease for those over age 65 is little more than half what it was in 1980, and now we’re turning our sights to cancer.
 
As recently as 1950, half the world lived in extreme poverty; today it’s less than 10% and falling. In Southeastern North Carolina, per capita income is up 30% over the past three decades, even after controlling for inflation.
 
While there is no single factor that drives economic growth, there are several areas that economists point to as facilitators of growth: physical and human capital, technological improvements and an environment conducive to growth – a special sauce made up of the whole community.
 
The WilmingtonBiz 100 recognizes many contributors to that special sauce including educators such as Jose Sartarelli and Jim Morton; entrepreneurs such as Shaun Olsen whose CloudWyze is helping the region manage the realities of distanced education and work; George Taylor and Amy Wright creating opportunities for inclusive growth; and Julie Wilsey at ILM along with Paul Cozza and Brian Clark of N.C. Ports keeping us connected to markets far and wide.
 
Combining individual and private sector efforts with smart policy (New Hanover County’s Chris Coudriet and NHRMC’s John Gizdic are both power players on the list), and a business friendly tax climate (North Carolina consistently ranks near the top for business climate) helps create an environment where the Live Oak Banks, Cornings, GEs, PPDs and up and comers such as Brooke Bloomquist’s Blue Shark Vodka and Nathanael Conway’s Blue Roll can thrive and innovate.
 
The current pandemic has been more than a bump in the road, but it too will pass, and the lessons and skills learned will remain.
 
For example, video communication and screen-sharing will facilitate the sharing of ideas over wider spaces; schools will be better equipped to complement in-person classes with digital supplements; and outdoor experiences and dining may provide a new avenue for social connection.
 
As we bring back drive-in movies, you can’t help but wonder if maybe there was something to the good ole days, but certainly, the best is yet to come for the world and for Southeastern North Carolina.
Adam Jones is a regional economist with UNCW’s Swain Center and an associate professor of economics in UNCW’s Cameron School of Business.
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