HOW WE WORK, WHERE WE WORK

WILL REQUIRE INNOVATION & HIGH SPEED INTERNET
By Port of Ridgefield Commissioners

Is Ridgefield ready to address the changes brought on by Covid-19? Is
there a plan for building resilience to the next big economic shock? Are we
in a position to recover, and what tools will it take to do so? Questions like
these have been on the Port’s mind this spring.
We believe Ridgefield will recover because our community is resilient, but
as we recover can our citizens and our community be made stronger? Can
we learn from this experience to be better prepared for some future shock to
our system?

Our commission and staff believe the answer to both questions is “yes.”
This opinion piece explores four components that inform Port thinking
and strategy. The key is that while we’re dealing with Covid-19, let’s
not get blind-sided by the economic change looming on the horizon.

Work Is Not A Place
If you’re fortunate to be one of those who are working from home
and continuing to collect a paycheck through the Covid-19 pandemic,
you’ve likely learned a thing or two. First, if you have young children,
you’ve confirmed what you’d already guessed: it’s a challenge. Enough
said.

Second, in the absence of young children, you may have found yourself
at the same level of productiveness – or even more so – than when you
work at the office. More importantly, your BOSS may have reached that
same conclusion, paving the way for post-Covid changes in how people
work.

In a recent Forbes article titled The New Normal Isn’t Remote Work. It’s
Better, by contributor Laurel Farrer, she points to a report from Gartner,
in which a March 30 survey of 317 CFOs and finance leaders revealed
that 74% will move at least 5% of their previously on-site workforce to
permanently remote positions post-COVID 19.

For businesses, the benefit is cost savings: lower overhead costs
including real estate and equipment expenses. For employees, the
Gartner report indicates workers are seeing greater productivity and
higher job satisfaction – creating more profitability for their employers.
Farrer notes that as a long-time advocate for work-from-home
employer policies, work is not a place. “Work is something you do,”
she says, “not somewhere you go.”

Redfin CEO: Expect Something Close To An Exodus From Expensive, Large Cities
Another eye-opening post-Covid prediction comes from Redfin CEO Glenn
Kelman. In a May 12 online interview on CNBC’s “Power Lunch” series, he says
an increased trend in working from home brought on by Covid-19 has created
a risk for big cities, which are likely to lose more workers to smaller towns.
Models predict one in four workers will not be returning to the office post-
Covid, and ½ of those responding say they will leave the big city in which they
currently live to avoid the high cost of housing.

Kelman says Redfin search engine traffic showing people overwhelmingly
looking for housing in small towns and cities. “If they can work from home,”
Kelman says, “they want to live in a place that’s more affordable, and where
they can walk around a little.”

Ridgefield’s New Reality
With more people working from home and more people able to move to smaller
towns and cities, we expect Ridgefield to continue to grow. With growth comes
an increased need for connectivity. Online work and education capabilities
will increase demand for cost-effective, high-capacity telecommunication
bandwidth.

Some Ridgefield residents were already working from home, but Covid-19
has likely accelerated this trend; working remotely may now be a permanent
status for many.

Look at it this way: Ridgefield’s residential subdivisions are becoming
Ridgefield’s new suburban office parks. But working from one’s home is not
the only possibility, there are other options too. For example, co-working
spaces allow people to get out of the house and can also provide access to
meeting facilities and office amenities including copy machines, receptionist
services, etc. So, if work is not a place – people are limited only by
their imaginations and the ability to connect to the outside world.
Whether working from home or in a co-working space, there’s a
challenge to having more remote workers in Ridgefield. We believe a
rise in the number of people staying here to work – in conjunction with the
near-term need and growth in online education – will further increase
demand for broadband capacity in our underserved area. How we’ll meet
that demand, and how fast we can build the infrastructure, is a distinct
challenge for Ridgefield and the Discovery Corridor.

Infrastructure Matters
Working and learning from home changes the way we think about
broadband and transportation infrastructure. If more employers and
employees will now approach work as what they do, not as a place, then
Ridgefield residents who have faced a daily commute to and from their jobs
in Oregon will be working more often from home.

“It’s easier, faster
and cheaper to build
broadband infrastructure
than it is to build
bridges and roads.”

With state and federal coffers already strained by Covid, we’ll need to make
every dollar spent on infrastructure count. We expect the conversation
surrounding transportation and broadband infrastructure – and where
to get the “biggest bang for the buck – to be robust and passionate. Consider
that it’s easier, faster and cheaper to build broadband infrastructure than it
is to build bridges and roads.

Fiber optic-based broadband infrastructure – a “must have” for a
modern economy – is still lacking in parts of Ridgefield and Clark County.
High-speed broadband is essential to supporting more work-from-home and
learn-from-home activity. Access to high-speed broadband continues to be
an issue of equity – some people have it and others don’t.

Covid-19 has further exposed the inequities in broadband service in our
community, state, and country. Federal and state broadband policy has
traditionally been cast as a rural versus urban dynamic – but the rural/urban
dichotomy m isses t he p oint. Y ou’re e ither c onnected w ith r eliable, h ighspeed,
high-capacity broadband or you’re not. When you’re not, you can’t
work, learn or compete. The Port understands this and continues to build this
infrastructure as funding allows.

We’re seeking additional financial resources and to inform policy makers
of the challenges our community faces. Limited funding – and outdated and
entrenched public policy – are making it difficult to address the broadband
needs of our community. In times like these, working together is the best way
forward.

Workplace Innovation Critical to Competitiveness
Covid-19 has disrupted the incomes and lives of many people and destroyed
our local and national economy. The next economic shock wave – hastened
by the pandemic as employers seek ways to keep business flowing with fewer
employees – may be the rise of automation and intelligent systems in the
workplace. Also known as Industry 4.0, or the fourth wave of the industrial
revolution, Industry 4.0 includes automation, robotics, digitization, machine
learning, data analytics, advanced materials, artificial intelligence, networking
etc. Individually and collectively we’re beginning to change the way we work.
It’s been estimated that within five years, 50% of jobs today will be significantly
impacted – if not lost outright – by new technology.

Our community can’t think of Industry 4.0 as the realm of the future. It’s here.
Even while we work to recover from a pandemic, we must keep our eye on the
next wave of disruption. We must start thinking about how we’re going to help
people and companies deal with, adapt to, adopt, and compete in an Industry
4.0 context and economy.

Integrating Industry 4.0 into business operations is going to become essential
for businesses to compete both locally and globally. New businesses – and
even new industries – will arise with the advent of industry 4.0. Yet we expect
the transition to be challenging for many companies and for workers.
There will still be jobs for humans in Industry 4.0 – but they will be new kinds
of jobs in this quickly emerging environment. Therefore workers, too, need
to gain knowledge so they are equipped to work in the new, higher-skilled,
technology-oriented jobs created.

With an eye on that reality, the Port has, over the last several years, been
assessing threats and opportunities associated with Industry 4.0. We’ve
concluded that for the Discovery Corridor to be a center for education and
technology-based companies, economic development efforts must go further
than providing land and facilities. There must also be a mechanism to help new
and existing companies and their workers keep pace with changing technology.
We must keep an eye on what’s next.

Now is the time to be looking for new ways to support people, companies, and
economic development. As a community port, if we can help facilitate business competitiveness,
we help secure the economic health of our community, our local businesses and the
employees who live here. Our community will then be stronger in adversity.

Embrace New Ways to Communicate, Collaborate
We’ve learned one thing about communicating during the coronavirus
pandemic – it can be tough but not impossible. Like many others, due to
Covid-19 and at Gov. Inslee’s directive, our public meetings have been held
online.

It’s not been 100% smooth, but it’s getting more comfortable for
commissioners and staff. We all yearn to be back to holding regular in-person
public meetings, because when it comes to public engagement, nothing beats
being face-to-face interaction.

For now, however, in the absence of real time meetings, we’ll use technology
to connect with people and to move our community projects forward. Because
one lesson we’ve learned over time is that working together and creating the
conversation, facilitating communication, and using collaborative problem
solving is critical to the strength and resiliency of our community.

For more information: Forbes: What is Industry 4.0? Here’s a Super Easy Explanation for Anyone