Co-authored with Jason Sosa, a Partner at Chameleon Collective, and Dean Whitaker, Founder & President of Whittaker Associates
Ten minutes from downtown Holland, Michigan, there is a massive $300 million dollar plant that manufactures advanced battery cells for electric vehicles. When it was first announced in 2009 that LG Chem would be setting up a subsidiary in the small town of 34,000 people, government officials planned for an economic revitalization. They spared no expense to woo the Korean giant. The local, state, and federal government awarded over $250 million in tax subsidies, grants, and concessions, promising that Michigan would become “the world capital for advanced batteries.”
The plan amounted to spending $750,000 for a job that paid only $54,000 a year. And along the way, much of the money was wasted. A 2013 federal investigation found that employees were “paid to watch movies, play games or volunteer at local non-profits as production lines for battery cells sat idle.” They concluded that taxpayers were to see little upside for their investment. While the plant did go on to later hire hundreds of workers and produce some batteries, the program fell far short of expectations. Today, it serves as a reminder that top-down thinking is a recipe for disaster in the modern era. The days when small towns could give corporations large handouts to create industry and stability are long gone.
Instead, state and local governments will need to change their entire approach if they want to want to breathe new life into non-metropolitan areas. They must prioritize people over industry, and workers over corporations. They must focus on building for what’s coming next, instead of what has come before. And that can be accomplished by understanding the transformation of the way we work.
The professionals of tomorrow won’t necessarily be sitting at a desk from 9 to 5; in fact, they may not even be confined to any particular location at all.
We are witnessing the rise of a “freelance economy” – a transformation enabled by technology, but driven by macroeconomic factors. People now have the ability to find, receive, and complete work entirely through the internet. They can simultaneously be employed by multiple clients around the world. They generate income globally but spend their earnings locally.
The rise of online platforms such as Upwork, Toptal, and Freelancer have made finding clients and workers simple. According to research commissioned by the Freelancers Union, as of 2016 there are already 55 million Americans who are freelancing, earning more than $1 trillion a year. They’re able to find more clients, work for longer hours, and establish a reputation in less time. While a survey by Deloitte showed that independent contractors still have many concerns – lack of a working culture, inconsistent income, and few employee benefits – we are still in the early days of remote working. Younger generations show greater enthusiasm and optimism for flexibility over the corporate ladder.
Today’s remote jobs include design, research, writing, education, customer service, marketing, sales, legal, accounting, analytics, consulting, and engineering – as communication technologies advance, that list will only grow.