Editor’s note: The Institute for Emerging Issues at NCSU hosted a two-day Emerging Issues Forum earlier this week to explore what technology automation and robotics means for future workers. Jim Roberts, who leads the Network for Entrepreneurs in Wilmington (NEW), found much to be positive about.

RALEIGH, N.C. – The people of North Carolina are the luckiest in the world.

Every year we know the future before the rest of you.

See we host an event in Raleigh called the Emerging Issues Forum. Every year the Emerging Issues Institute, a Think (and DO) tank, at North Carolina State University in the state capital, puts on a two day event about the upcoming issues of the next 6 months to five years. (Why doesn’t your state do this next year?)

And this year, the conference theme was about robots stealing jobs, or the more modern term, automation and how the economy and people of North Carolina need to adjust their skills and talents to thrive. #FutureWork was the official title.

And every year, we are introduced to someone from somewhere else that may be on the cover of TIME Magazine within a year. This year that person may be Dambisa Moyo (@dambisamoyo), Phillip Auerswald (@auerswald) or Jaylen Bledsoe (@jaylenbledsoe).

This is the one time every year where the leaders statewide get together from various backgrounds, from private sector, public sector and academics. And we are confronted to challenge our own beliefs about the impact of various parts of the economy on the quality and standards of our lives.

Former Governor Jim Hunt, four time Governor of North Carolina, is the creator of this great annual event that is now 30 years old. Great minds like Thomas Friedman and Richard Florida have been past speakers due to the governor’s persistence of NEVER taking no for an answer. The event is now run by Anita Brown Graham, an Eisenhower Fellow.

Admittedly the event is tilted towards the Raleigh area economy. The rest of us from this HUGE state get to learn from best practices that have made the Raleigh/ Durham/ Chapel Hill/ Research Triangle Park region the 2nd most important economy in the US according to Jim Goetz of Sequoia Capital during the recent CED Tech Venture Conference. Raleigh area has some built in advantages such as being the state capital, surrounded with three tier one research universities and good Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The area has also benefited by foresight of leaders to create the Council for Entrepreneurial Development and the Research Triangle Park to retain the brains.

Humans + Software > Software

So let’s get back to the robots… Yes, even white collar jobs are being changed with automation such as financial bookkeeping, legal work and even, wait for it …journalism. (I am not a journalist, but graduated from the U of Florida College of Journalism with a degree in Advertising.)

Two weeks ago, we had Joe Procopio speak at my Network for Entrepreneurs in Wilmington (NEW) startup event in Wilmington, NC. He is an executive with the recently acquired Automated Insights. I know some of you are big consumers of big data around Fantasy Football, no judgment here. Automated Insights, while started around the automation of interpreting big data around sports, is now also doing work around the big data of financial reporting of publicly traded companies.

The CEO of Automated Insights Robbie Allen was one of the speakers at this year’s Emerging Issues Forum.

I did like his slide at the Forum that said, Humans + Software > Software.

Of course like any business related event, we hear that the hottest companies in the world don’t actually own anything. That Uber does not own any cars. That Air BnB does not own any hotels. Or Alibaba doesn’t have any inventory. And now a Raleigh based startup called EmployUs helps fill empty jobs through crowdsourcing and does not have any recruiters.

Let’s talk manufacturing for the economic developers concerned about jobs in their regions. According to speaker and author Martin Ford, General Motors in 1979 had 840,000 workers and had $11 Billion in earnings. Today Google has 38,000 and has $14 Billion in earnings. So Google is 20% more productive in earning power with fewer employees by magnitudes.

Let’s relate this to the South. The economies of the Triad area of Greensboro, Winston Salem and High Point, North Carolina were based on textiles, furniture and tobacco. When these textile jobs moved south of the border, people were convinced jobs were being shipped there. Not really true, these plants in Mexico were mostly automated with just a fraction of the number of employees doing the “linthead” or blue collar work.

A speaker named Devin Fidler made some interesting points that software and algorithms have taken the place of middle managers. That software can activate, deactivate and reconfigure resources when they are needed. What are the peak times drivers are needed for Uber? The software can now make those decisions instead of a middle manager that looks like Dilbert.

Fidler also talked about a really interesting startup called PulsePoint. Imagine a fire chief that is off duty and having a simple cup of coffee. Suddenly he hears the siren of a fire engine and the sound of the fire truck is getting closer and closer until the truck pulls up in the building next door to rescue a person who was having a medical emergency. While the skills of a fire chief was right next door, the chief had no way to know there was an emergency next door. PulsePoint solves that pain point to maybe save a life or many lives by a kind of on demand notification of location of the emergency.

So what can you do if you are concerned about robot stealing jobs?

Robbie Allen also had a second great slide.

The title simply said… “Future Proof Job? ….Entrepreneur”

Extra Factoid from the Emerging Issues Forum …

Despite what you heard recently about North Carolina, we are actually pro-solar. North Carolina is in the top five states for solar energy. Former NC resident and now Silicon Valley professor Vivek Wadhwa gave a great factoid none of us will ever forget. He said the sun puts out 1,400 times more energy in a day than we could use in a year.

About the author: Jim R. Roberts is a professional connector that has started several Entrepreneur Support Organizations in North Carolina. He is currently the Founder of the Network for Entrepreneurs in Wilmington (NEW) and the Wilmington Angels for Local Entrepreneurs (WALE) in Wilmington, North Carolina. (@RedSpireUSNC)

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