What Will the Future Hold?

June 24, 2011

Steven T. Wray, Philadelphia Business Journal


What would you do today if you knew how our world will be 15 years from now, in 2026?


Not long ago, the Economy League unveiled four "future histories" of Greater Philadelphia and their implications. These 2026 scenarios were based on more than a year's interviews, roundtables, and research into the forces and trends at work regionally, nationally, and worldwide.


One scenario called "The Global Village" describes a world where cheap alternative energy is produced everywhere and thus investment and economic activity increases across the planet, including in the United States. Yet, low investment in education here prevents American workers from surpassing their global counterparts.


"Tight Belts" is a world where the rising energy costs slow the U.S. consumer economy. As a result, dense urban areas prove their competitive advantage. International corporations command the political and economic power, but U.S. higher education institutions remain attractive to the global elite.


Newly discovered domestic oil and gas reserves fuel a fresh American boom in the "America in the Driver's Seat" future. The increase in revenue funds reforms in education and health care. But success breeds tension over labor and immigration as well as anti-American terrorism.


In "Partners in Hard Times," energy grows more expensive and slows the global economy. Public/private partnerships in America support public services as government shrinks. Political instability hinders emerging markets. But investments in education and innovation help drive moderate growth.


Understanding their implications will cast a new light on the choices Greater Philadelphia faces today and tomorrow. What kind of work force is needed? What kind of education system? Which industries and partnerships will move forward? Which kind of infrastructure investments?


The development of these future histories comes midway in a multiyear initiative called World Class Greater Philadelphia. Led by the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia, the initiative seeks to position our region among the top locations worldwide for business and lifestyle by 2026 - when the eyes of the world will be on us for the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.


A growing cohort of tri-state leaders has joined in this pursuit. The Economy League is convening regional roundtables to crowdsource the commonalities and implications that emerge from the four futures and build consensus for action.


Although there are challenges, we have an opportunity to have an impact on our future.