Adapt or Die

I just returned from the annual conference of the Association of Washington Cities and came away with many good ideas for revitalizing Ferndale and preparing us for the future. If there was an overall theme to the presentations, though, it was that cities must be prepared to adapt to a world that’s evolving at an exponential pace.

Think about how much and how fast the world changed during your grandparents’ lives. Now imagine how much and how fast the world will change for a child born today. The babies of 2015 will have jobs that don’t exist now and they’ll have dozens of them in their lifetimes. To successfully compete in the 21st century global economy, Ferndale’s children will need to be comfortable with a pace of change that would have brought their great grandparents to their knees.

So how do we prepare them and ourselves to thrive in this rapidly changing world? We can start by thinking regionally as a County, using the methodology of Economic Gardening. Economic gardening is premised on the idea that entrepreneurs drive the economy, e.g., Steve Jobs at Apple, Elon Musk at Tesla and SpaceX. Though it is not a panacea that will solve all our problems, economic gardening engenders a problem-solving mindset and a level of risk taking essential for fact-based solutions.

I believe the economic survival, indeed the physical survival of our Nation, will require all of us to think more like entrepreneurs, constantly reinventing ourselves and our communities to quickly adapt to global economic trends. We must be willing to take the initiative to solve our problems locally with little or no help from the State or Federal governments, create jobs using our own local strengths and talents, and build community and a sense of place for our residents, all while taking risks some will be uncomfortable with.

And when I say risk, I don’t mean skiing in avalanche prone back country, but rather the risk of taking on debt to build a library when many people said such facilities were no longer necessary. The Ferndale Public Library is now the center of learning and continuing education in our community, and will serve the educational needs of all our residents for the next 30 years. But what if we had listened to the naysayers and not built the library?

Risk means be willing to solve problems by taking actions that would have been unheard of a decade ago, such as upgrading our wastewater treatment plant to turn its output into drinking water rather than piping it into the Nooksack as we’ve always done. Risk means be willing to invest time and money in an entrepreneur’s idea so they stay in Whatcom County, creating jobs and economic growth here rather than taking their idea elsewhere.

Overall, we must become more willing to accept change. I know that’s hard, but only those cities, indeed nations, best able to adapt to the tremendous changes coming to our world will survive and thrive. Ferndale, Whatcom County, Washington and the United States of America will either adapt or we will simply fade away. The speaker from the National League of Cities said it best – “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”

Learn More About What Others are Doing:

Center for Advanced Manufacturing (Puget Sound)

Community Resources for Business (Bellingham)

Economic Gardening

Kauffman Foundation One Million Cups Initiative

National League of Cities

Palouse Knowledge Corridor

WWU Small Business Development Center

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