I guess the musical prophecies of Bob Dylan were right, “The times they are a changin’.” In the early 1900’s most people worked on family farms or ran retail stores on muddy main streets. Fast forward ten years and you find young people leaving the farm and migrating to the cities to work in factories tied to new inventions of the day. Electricity, telegraph, automobiles, telephone, radio all spawned a host of new opportunities for those with ambition.

That Was Then; This Is Now

At the beginning, and throughout most of the 20th century, the United States led the world in manufacturing and innovation. We invented the assembly line, replaced the horse in the field with a tractor that could do ten times the work in half the time. The famous, or near famous, that we used to have to pay to see at a movie theatres, were suddenly thrust into our living rooms through the magic of television.

In the 1960’s computers helped put men on the moon. In the 70’s VCR’s changed our viewing habits and reinvented “free time.” The reel to reel, gave way to the 8-track, that gave way to the cassette, that gave way to the CD and DVD. Computers that were once room sized now fit in the palm of our hands.

What Have We Lost and What Have We Gained

It’s easy to see that American’s are experts at taking existing products and reinventing them. I’m not sure Alexander Graham Bell had any idea that phones would not only be used to communicate, but also to take pictures and movies. Not to mention accept credit cards at a local flea market or garage sale.

The news outlets are constantly reporting on the number of jobs that have moved overseas for cheaper labor, less regulation, lower taxes and to open new markets. Have we really lost those jobs, or is this just another evolutionary process in the economic cycle?  Honda doesn’t make cars in Japan and ship them here; they make them here to sell here. General Motors is doing exactly the same thing in China. The Chinese motorist has reached the economic level where an automobile is now affordable to them. Doesn’t it make economic sense for American companies to fill that need?

Winners and Losers

You are not likely to find an 8-track player on any retail shelves. The 8-track was a winner for a time — then a loser. Kodak lost a major share of its market to the advent of digital photography.

Here are some winners in the near future and beyond.

  • Communications: Wireless products are going to become more and more a part of our daily lives. Predicted Growth: over 17% by 2016.
  • Wind Power: Not a winner so much today, but as technology advances look for modest 10-11% gains by 2016.
  • E-Commerce and Online Auctions: More people are going to be selling online products and services out of the home locally and around the world. Look for steady gains leveling to around 9%.
  • Internet Publishing & Broadcasting: More and more people are becoming engaged in the sale of information. Magazines and newspapers are going digital and taking readers with them. Look for 25% growth coming from more specialization in the years to come.
  • Healthcare: This will be a major biggie no matter what happens with Obamacare. People always need care and all the whistles and bells that go along with it.

Here Are Industries Destined To The Scrap Pile.

  • Manufactured Homes: With improved building techniques, smaller footprints and record low interest rates, actual home sales should increase. Look for 30-50% losses in this industry.
  • DVD, CD and Video Rental Outlets: Movies on demand, downloads direct to TV, will drive the final nail in this once booming business.
  • Apparel Manufacturing: Made in Vietnam, Made in China, Made in Indonesia, Made in Korea, do I need to go on? Declines as high as 60-70%.
  • Newspaper Publishing: Notice your paper getting smaller? Are you getting calls to subscribe to the online version? Local stories and good writing might salvage local neighborhood papers. 18-28% in lost revenue.

Some Final Thoughts

The only thing certain in this world is change. We are not going to be able to resurrect the manufacturing giant we once were. Today’s college freshman will be attempting to solve problems that don’t yet exist. New ways of building wealth are being created every day. Try to imagine someone telling you about the Internet, or Facebook, or HDTV, 15-20 years ago. Take pictures with my phone? How long is the cord? Jobs are waiting for the ideas to be thought of. Start thinking.