CHARLESTON, W.Va.--West Virginia's future could be tied to how well it meets the needs to growing economies abroad, a noted consultant told members of the Charleston Area Alliance Tuesday evening.
Deborah Westphal, managing director of Toffler Associates, was the keynote speaker at the Alliance's annual meeting at the state Culture Center.
Westphal is also a futurist, a type of social scientist that systematically analyzes global trends to predict the potential evolution of society and the economy.
The firm has advised the U.S. Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security and several Fortune 500 companies about strategies they should develop in order to get ahead of future trends.
Westphal said for Charleston and West Virginia to prosper, it has to find its niche in meeting the needs that will emerge in a coming global economic shift.
"We are in the midst of a revolution in society," she said. "The information age is creating a really different pattern for how businesses and government are going to exist."
She said by 2030, everyone would be a part of a global social network that is "highly segmented and hyper-diverse."
The world population will boom to more than 9 billion people, due to advances in health care and quality of life in less-developed countries. Society as a whole will become more educated, wealthier, and the world will see a shift in economic power to emerging countries in Asia and Africa.
The key, Westphal said, was how local leaders build on the past to capitalize on the future.
"The next 20 years could be very, very exciting if you look through different lenses of how the future will unfold," she said. "It will be highly connected, it will be about knowledge and it will be about those human resources that we will all be so desperate to get."
Westphal said, for decades, Charleston focused on being the envy of the chemical industry in the United States. She said if the community hopes to thrive in the coming decades, it has to position itself to be the envy of the global industry.
To do that, it has to meet the needs of the burgeoning populations abroad.
"We're going to have water issues and energy issues to resolve," she said. "Why not focus on the problems and the issues that the rest of the world is going to be focused on?"
To address those problems, industry leaders will have to create innovative solutions. To do that, it will need innovative, well-educated people. She said that would require a good education system that funnels bright individuals to good jobs at home.
"How are you going to draw people here that are going to create that foundation for the future?" she said.