That Short, Meaningless Conversation You Have with a Cashier Could be Saving Your Life

  The internet has conditioned us to short news cycles, so there is a certain nostalgia to seeing last Friday’s Wall Street Journal (WSJ) report of tumbling Kroger shares and mention in that article of similar pressure on other grocery chains, including Whole Foods. Of course, within hours, Amazon announced that it would offer $13.7 billion for the grocery giant.

Corn Pops in Harlem

  Neighborhoods have a way of changing. When I first lived in New York for school, my neighborhood enjoyed the second highest homicide rate of all NYPD precincts; anything above West 98th Street was considered sketchy, at least until you entered the Columbia University campus at 116th Street; and, Harlem had earned a reputation for some rough edges.

But, it had not always been that way. Harlem’s historic buildings offer silent testimony to how people and communities move around within their cities; numerous churches exhibit stonework and carvings that evidence their past use as synagogues (and, several of those buildings were originally churches in their first iterations). As the neighborhood gentrifies, it is not without the stress that often accompanies such evolutions. And, yet, the neighborhood is evolving, as are my old college stomping grounds. Silicon Harlem is a not-for-profit venture aimed at fostering tech development, and my old neighborhood now sports a Starbucks (regrettably, the old-time butcher with the reliable $5 rotisserie chicken is gone).

Cyber-Seniors on the Rise

  A 2014 Smart Rural Community (SRC) white paper reported a significant age gap in the adoption of broadband technologies: 43% of Americans age 65 and older subscribed, compared to 80% of those between 18 and 29, 78% of those between 30 and 49, and 69% of those between 50 and 64.

New data from the Pew Research Center shows that seniors have made significant strides since then. Pew reports that today, the majority—51%--of those age 65 and older have broadband service in their homes, and two-thirds—67%--use the Internet on a regular basis.

While still below the average for all adults—73% of which have broadband at home and 90% of which use the Internet on a regular basis—the results are encouraging.

College, Without the Debt: A Path to Middle-Skill Jobs

  Recent articles and studies indicate that U.S. manufacturing jobs are being affected more by technology than cross-border competition. These data underlie a growing need to consider a new “extraction strategy” for rural America.

To begin, it is useful to consider the three broad categories into which American jobs fall: low, middle, and high skill. According to sources cited by the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey Institute, low-skill jobs generally require a high-school diploma, less than a year of related experience, and less than one month of “on the job” training; high-skill jobs require at least a college degree; and, middle-skill jobs require at least one month to a year of “on the job training” or an apprenticeship, vocational degree, or one-to-five years’ experience in a similar job. “Middle-skill” jobs may include electricians or medical assistants.

According to the Carsey Institute, rural workers are more likely than urban workers to hold middle-skill jobs. And, according to the National Skills Coalition (NSC), 53 percent of U.S. jobs in 2015 were middle-skill. It is expected that demand for middle-skill jobs will remain strong over the next decade. But, the NSC, relying on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau, finds that training for middle-skill jobs lags about ten percent behind demand.

The Internet Told Me, “You Can’t Go Home Again.” The Wall Street Journal Winked, “You Can.”

  (New York City) I recently discovered that my childhood home in Ohio is on the market, so I took a tour of the house via the internet.

Over the course of more than 50 photos and a video, I approached the front porch of the house my parents closed on more than a half-century ago (it seems the 89 year old wooden storm door is still there). I viewed the living room (the mirror above the fireplace is gone), the dining room (mostly the same), and the kitchen (the breakfast nook has been taken over by a large refrigerator and cabinets). Upstairs, bricks in one chimney had been exposed, while bricks that had been exposed in other rooms were now covered over. And, in acts of disruptive fenestration, some windows had been closed off while new windows were opened.

Travelogue: Mescalero, New Mexico

  Friends and family often have questions about the various trips I take for work. Much has been said about how the thrill of travel can tarnish over time, and while I certainly have not reached the depths of that point, I do find myself dissuading people from the impression that a trip to Dallas or Indianapolis was anything more than a few days in a non-descript hotel with (maybe) the opportunity to take a walk in the evening when time permits.

But when travel takes me to smaller places, I find myself on an inverted side of the conversation: friends and family raise eyebrows when I explain that my destination is a two-hour drive from an airport to a small town of which no one has ever heard. From my perspective, however, those are sometimes the best trips, because they offer an opportunity to see something that few others ever see, and to learn about things through actual experience, rather than through anecdotal accounts provided by others.

View from edge of tower installation, approx. 10,000 feet elevation.

Ex Machina? Maybe Not Quite Yet...

New Edge  Despite numerous media reports that armies of robots are coming to snatch jobs away from hard-working Americans, so far, their impact has been minimal. For one thing, the eighty-six consecutive months of job growth would certainly indicate that jobs are not being destroyed in any widespread manner. Additionally, the 4.4% unemployment rate—very near the level that economists would deem “full employment”—would tend to indicate that any worker unfortunate enough to be displaced by a robot should be able to find alternative employment, and that robots have not (yet) had a permanent impact on the job market.

Further, if robots were indeed making an appreciable dent in the work force, we would expect them to replace the least productive workers, and thus overall worker productivity would climb. The reality, however, is just the opposite—overall growth in labor productivity has been relatively flat since 2011. Clearly, the long-anticipated impact of robots and artificial intelligence in the workplace has yet to be felt.

It's Officially Official...Wireless Households are in the Majority

New Edge  It’s a milestone you could see coming from a mile away, and now it’s finally here: over 50% of U.S. households do not have a wireline phone.

As reported in an early release of the results of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) National Health Interview Study, July-December 2016, 50.8% of U.S. households are wireless-only, 39.4% include both a wireline and wireless phone, 6.5% have a wireline but no wireless phone; and 3.2% have no telephone at all.

For the same time period a year ago, 48.3% were wireless-only, 41.2% included both a wireline and wireless phone, 7.2% had a wireline but no wireless phone; and 3.1% had no telephone at all. The percentage of wireless-only households has grown steadily over the past several years from 41.0% in July-December 2013 to the current 50.8%.

Hey Siri?...Write Me a Blog Post

New Edge  Apparently, we are becoming increasingly comfortable talking to our electronic devices. According to a recent study conducted by GfK, more than three-quarters—76%--of U.S. consumers between the ages of 13 and 64 have used the voice control feature on one or more of their devices.

Further, those consumers who are using voice control technologies do so for a variety of purposes: 69% have used speech to operate a smartphone; 21% used voice with a tablet; 20% to operate their car radios or GPS devices; 18% to control computers; and 14% to operate their television sets.

However, what many consider to be the truly “game changing” voice control technology--the Digital Home Assistant (DHA)--has proven somewhat sluggish in terms of consumer adoption. Amazon’s Echo/Dot and Google Home are examples of DHAs, and have been on the market for approximately two years.

GfK found that only 11% of U.S. consumers currently own a DHA. Of the 89% who do not, only 3% indicated that they were “very likely” to purchase such a device in the coming year.

What I Learned in Harrisburg

  Although I was raised in Ohio, I have been developing a bit of a relationship with Pennsylvania over the past decade. It started with a series of summers camping in Lancaster, complemented by time in nearby York County, and injected with periodic trips to Harrisburg, the state capital. And Philadelphia too, of course, for the big-city vibe in the state.

This past week, I spoke at the Pennsylvania Economic Development Association (PEDA) spring conference. I learned a lot from the other speakers, who discussed work on the Port of Philadelphia and shipping issues, as well freight that traverses the state via rail or roadway (did you know that a Walmart distribution center in Bethlehem can reach 95 percent of the U.S. population in two days?). Other speakers described their local and regional businesses, and several (including a firm that manufactured paper for Lincoln's inauguration) have pivoted to meet changing market demands and technologies. Fortunately, several of the morning speakers noted the need for broadband, so my sales pitch in the afternoon was already primed.