It was a fascinating morning of good news-bad news propositions at the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.’s 2018 Economic Forecast at the Omni Hotel, which drew a crowd of 500 or so to Bunker Hill on the morning of Feb. 21. Maybe bad news-good news is the better way to look at it, especially since the first question that KNX 1070’s Frank Mottek drew from the audience in his role as emcee was about homelessness, and it came from AC Martin boss Chris Martin … The bad news is that the fellow who just last summer brought the Wilshire Grand Center to fruition as a new point of reference on the city’s skyline apparently felt compelled by current circumstances to ask whether homelessness is a public health problem or a reflection of our contemporary economy. The good news is that Martin’s inquiry to panelist Jonathan Woetzel, a Shanghai-based director and senior partner in the McKinsey Global Institute, put the problem front and center, which is where it belongs until this city gets a grip on a challenge that confronts the community of business and every other segment of society ... The bad news was that Woetzel said homelessness is a double-edged crisis, with both public health and economic aspects. The good news is that a later panel didn’t just leave it there, and instead took up a related aspect of the challenge, with Dr. Manuel Pastor, director of the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity at USC, leading a discussion on what the community of business and the government and education sectors can do to bolster L.A.’s middle class … The bad news was that recently hired LAEDC Chief Economist Steven Banks was among the many Angelenos feeling under the weather lately, which left him unable to deliver the local portion of the forecast (see story, right). The good news was that Somjita Mitra, director of the Institute for Applied Economics at LAEDC, did a fine job as a pinch hitter – and made sure UCLA got equal time on the dais … The bad news was that McKinsey’s Woetzel issued a pretty clear wake-up call to anyone who thinks L.A. or California or the U.S. in general can rest on past laurels as a center of technological innovation and adoption. A number of markets in Asia are ramped up on all of those fronts, according to Woetzel, who called out digital payments as an area where China is well ahead of the pack. The good news came on Woetzel’s projection that technological innovation and adoption will lift about 3 billion individuals throughout the world into the ranks of the consumer class in coming decades. That’s “3 billion new customers who really don’t know what they want,” said Woetzel, outlining perhaps the biggest opportunity on the horizon for enterprises that figure out what the new spenders might want – or outfits that can create the stuff of such material desire … Woetzel delivered some bad news to a lot of folks working at what he called “predictable physical work” – stacking boxes on pallets, say, or working on basic assembly lines. He identified such jobs as the most likely to be replaced by machines that feature artificial intelligence. Then came relatively good news for humans who manage other humans – they’re least likely to be displaced by robotics – although nobody’s completely off the hook, according to Woetzel, who estimated that all of us do something on our jobs that “could be done or done better” by a machine … It sure sounded like bad news for most of us when Woetzel took out his crystal ball and warned that we shouldn’t count on having companies around for too much longer. And the good news – the economy of the future will instead produce lots of “projects” to work on – wasn’t exactly a full offset for anyone who hasn’t yet embraced the gig economy … Sullivan Says: I’ll lay odds that you’ll take this last bit as nothing but good news if you get a jump on the foodies and hipsters and head to Matteo’s Ice Cream & Fruit Bars on Pico just west of Crenshaw for a scoop of smoked milk.

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