Futurist Deborah Westphal spoke to the annual meeting of the Charleston Area Alliance Tuesday about West Virginia's economic potential in an increasingly global world.
For West Virginia to prosper, she said, 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," Westphal said. "The information age is creating a really different pattern for how businesses and government are going to exist."
With a world population approaching more than 9 billion and a better quality of life for people in developing countries, society as a whole will be better educated and wealthier. Emerging countries in Asia and Africa will have more economic power and more influence.
Increased development in rising nations brings emerging problems, such as water resources and energy issues. West Virginia and its citizens can be in on the innovative solutions if the state citizenry and leaders are prepared.
Westphal said West Virginia will need innovative, well-educated people. That requires a good education system that funnels bright individuals to good jobs at home.
"Knowledge is the key to the future," Westphal said. "Information is the wealth driver."
West Virginia has a lot to offer workers in the updated information age. In a connected world, a creative class of people working from a home office overlooking beautiful mountain scenery can help solve problems a world away.
But it won't happen without the right support and preparation.
"Higher education has to be in tuned with today's learners and today's industries," said Dr. Brian Hemphill, president of West Virginia State University. "Those that do will be the prosperous institutions and deliver West Virginia into the future."
Of course, for higher education to have enough of today's learners, primary and secondary institutions need to advance students who are well prepared.
West Virginia has a strong past in the chemical and energy industries. Those and other traditional industries remain important, and the state still needs to encourage their development.
But the state must prepare as well for the information age future and either capture that niche or get passed by. As West Virginia State's Hemphill said: "Bottom line, we must adapt."