Shifts from big retail signal changes for jobs and consumers

Cover image from World Economic Forum’s January 2016 report, “The Future of Jobs,” an outlook on jobs and employment in 2020

Walmart, the Arkansas-based retailer, recently announced plans to close 269 stores worldwide. The New York Times reports this may affect as many as 10,000 American workers. Another story highlights the rapid rise of income inequality. The concentration of wealth among a few has grown 84 percent in five years. Oxfam reports that, “Just 62 people own as much wealth as 3.5 billion at the bottom half of the world’s income scale.” 

Together these trends flag challenges for the middle class and regional economies like those in the Finger Lakes and Rochester area. A recent Democrat and Chronicle report detailed how the local economy trails other metros in terms of employment growth. Todd Clausen, reporter at the Democrat and Chronicle pointed to recent layoffs to balance more positive trends of broader employment gains and hiring announcements at local firms. 

As the Finger Lakes region looks ahead it must look outside its borders for both inspiration and all-important context. 

  1. Jobs: The landscape for service-oriented jobs is expected to change. The World Economic Forum issued a report titled, “The Future of Jobs.” Its data suggest robots could usurp as many as five million jobs by the year 2020. Jobs most at risk? Administrative roles within professional office settings. 
  2. Retail and Consumers: Waning performance at major retailers like Walmart, Best Buy and Macy’s points to a shift in consumer preferences and the continued growth (and perhaps more importantly: influence) of eCommerce — especially at giant Amazon. As marquee projects continue, such as Tower 280 and Sibley Building, developers must stay mindful of these shifts in behavior and demand. Long term, this may also affect existing sites dependent upon retail such as College Town in the Mt. Hope neighborhood.
  3. Inclusion and Equality: In its report on jobs, the World Economic Forum cites challenges specific to women. Their placement at mid-level jobs may increase by as much as 9 percent; 12 percent for senior-level roles. Despite movement in these areas, the report also points to challenges related to fewer women in fields related to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) where job growth is expected. In the Finger Lakes region, the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative, Greater Rochester Enterprise, Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce and other leading organizations should track local data to identify the strategies and support required to strengthen diverse business leadership and more inclusive hiring practices. 
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