2034 (Jeff Hankins Publisher's Note)

by Jeff Hankins  on Monday, Mar. 23, 2009 12:00 am  

Celebrating an anniversary typically means looking back with fond memories of the good times and haunting thoughts of the bad.

Since the Arkansas Business 25th anniversary commemorative edition goes to great lengths to reflect, I'm going to take a stab at predictions for the next 25 years of business and life in Arkansas:

• Health care will continue to be the biggest economic driver in central Arkansas and other metro areas of the state, but government will have a significantly larger role. I can imagine a system much like our school situation: publicly funded and run hospitals and clinics, with a handful of private ones that people are willing to pay a premium to use. Ditto for nursing homes.

• Arkansas will make gains to close the gap with the rest of the country in regard to per capita income and education, but still won't be able to rise higher than 42nd or so because other states are working to improve just as hard as we are.

• Like the rest of rural America, rural Arkansas population will continue to decline because of a lack of health care access and jobs. Suburban areas will continue to prosper as a result and as a compromise for those who would really prefer to be out in the country.

• Wal-Mart Stores will be different in many ways but will still be the market leader in retailing. I wouldn't have said this five years ago, when Target and others appeared to be on the fast track while Wal-Mart seemed to languish. The trickiest part may be the transition to the next generation of the Walton family.

• We will have seen two more rounds of bank consolidation and startups. Just look in the anniversary edition at our chart showing bank and savings and loan changes during the last 25 years, and you'll understand how impossible it is to predict which ones will still be around in 2034.

• Today's mobile devices will be the equivalent of a rotary-dial analog telephone at best. Video conversations, more access to instant information and payments by mobile device will be routine. We'll still be annoyed by people who don't turn off their ringer.

• Print publications like this will still be around, but there will be fewer of them. Daily and weekly newspapers will consolidate because of a combination of reader habits and population shifts. The demand for quality information, trend stories and entertainment reading won't go away, so credible local media will be as relevant as ever, despite what bloggers want us to think. The commodity is and will be national news and information that we can get from dozens of sources.

• Investors and the U.S. government will have learned from the dangers of extraordinary corporate and personal debt and trusting investment opportunities that are too good to be true. But the farther we get from the current predicament, the more daring people will become again – particularly those who don't feel the sting now.

• While the Fayetteville Shale Play isn't booming at the level it was the last couple of years because of big drops in natural gas prices, by 2034 we'll look back and see that it indeed helped Arkansas through this recession and improved life for two generations of families in the drilling areas.

• In Little Rock and in every U.S. metro area, we will still be talking about the plight of the public school system. But it will be smaller and more manageable because even more people will be attending suburban, private and charter schools.

• The house teardown trend in the Little Rock Heights neighborhood will have moved west to Pleasant Valley.

• Mountain Home, the Lake Ouachita area, the Greers Ferry Lake area and other relaxing Arkansas destinations will have grown in popularity for home offices thanks to continued improvements in wireless communications access.

• As for me, I'll be 68 years old. My columns will have a cranky tone, and I'll talk down to the young whippersnappers who are running the state. I'll still be working (since Medicare probably won't kick in until I'm 72), but not nearly as hard and for less money. I'll frequently reference the stock market crash, recession and outrageous debt lessons of 2008-09. My educated children will have good careers, complain about how high payroll taxes are to support us old people and let me spoil my grandkids.                       

(Jeff Hankins can be reached via e-mail at jhankins@abpg.com.)

 

 

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