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Howard County, Economic Opportunity and Prosperity Task Force, County Council Hearing

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Howard County, Economic Opportunity and Prosperity Task Force, County Council Hearing

Hiruy Hadgu

I support the creation of the Economic Opportunity and Prosperity Task Force.

At a time of high income inequality and rapid technological advancements, I think the two major threats that local economies will face are the automation of jobs as well as costly damage to infrastructure due to natural disasters caused by climate change.

In fact, these threats are already here but I do not think we are ready for them.

Some studies predict that 47 percent of US Jobs are at high risk of replacement by automation.

This is not an outlandish estimate. Consider this astounding statistic: Walmart employs 1.3 million people with a market capitalization of $244B while Amazon employs 220k people with a market capitalization of $475B.

Amazon has achieved nearly twice the size of Walmart with just 17% of the employees.

Some of these jobs are waiters and waitresses, truck drivers, forklift drivers, accountants and auditors, cashiers, retail employees, totaling a minimum of 20 million jobs nationwide.

According to the Maryland department of labor, licensing and regulation, there are about 25 to 40 thousand Howard County jobs that fall in the aforementioned categories.

The wages to these jobs are about 1 to $1.5 billion or about 10% of the nearly $11 billion of the total annual wages paid by Howard County employers.

At the same time we are also faced with the devastation of climate change – Hurricane Harvey is expected to cost $125 billion in damages.

Many local economies face this threat not just because of the impacts of natural disasters but due to the poor infrastructure and environmental regulations.

A prime example is the 1000 year flood that caused major destruction in Ellicott City over a year ago. Here I would be remiss if I did not mention the current APFO debate and urge the inclusion of an Environmental impacts test to prevent future disasters.

Automation is inevitable. A free market needs the most efficient means of producing goods and services. But we do not have to fall victim to it. Climate change is also inevitable.

While it is a threat, we can make it an opportunity to head off job losses due to automation while we are preserving our environment and infrastructure.

Howard County can leverage its highly ranked public school system and community college to begin creating a 21st century workforce.

For example, the county can look into creating incentives that lead students to select the jobs of the future in exchange for debt free college.

We also need to look into finding ways to raise the minimum wage to $15, which is low at a time of high income inequality.

Economists say that if productivity caught up with wages the minimum wage would be over $20.

But it is not enough to raise the wage. We need to provide incentives so the future workforce seeks jobs that are value-add, automation proof, and off-shore proof.

I think this is an important initiative. If we are not prepared for them, automation and climate change will be disastrous.

I look forward to meaningful recommendations developed by the taskforce to mitigate their impacts by leveraging the county’s great schools, its highly educated residents, and public and private organizations.