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Business Observer Friday, Mar. 1, 2019 2 years ago

The robots are coming to Florida's west coast — for these jobs

Several regions in Florida, according to new report, are vulnerable to losing jobs to automation.

The robots are coming.

And on the Gulf Coast of Florida, they’re coming in droves.

So much so that, according to a January report from the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institute, four of the top 25 and eight of the top 50 metro area most vulnerable to losing jobs to automation are on or next to Florida’s West Coast. No. 3 is Lakeland-Winter Haven, with a 48.5% average automation potential, while Cape Coral-Fort Myers is No. 11, at 47.7%, and North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, at 46.7%, is No. 24.

“The power and prospect of automation and artificial intelligence initially alarmed technology experts for fear that machine advancements would destroy jobs. Then came a correction, with a wave of reassurances,” states the report, which analyzed U.S. Census and McKinsey & Co. data. “Now, the discourse appears to be arriving at a more complicated, mixed understanding that suggests that automation will bring neither apocalypse nor utopia, but instead both benefits and stresses alike.”

But why is the west coast of Florida area so at-risk to automation trends?

For starters, the report cites routine, predictable, physical tasks as “the most vulnerable to automation in the coming years.” That’s jobs like office administration, production, transportation, and food preparation. “Such jobs are deemed high risk” the report states, “with over 70% of their tasks potentially automatable.”

Lakeland, given the surge of new and expanded logistics and production facilities in the city and surrounding area over the last five years, from Amazon to Walmart to Southey Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, fits that model. Those facilities, in addition to high ceilings and wide berths for trucks, are filled with the latest in AI and machine learning robots that can do some tasks faster and cheaper than humans.

A second reason, the report cites, is a given city’s or region’s size. The bigger it is, the more it can absorb, and in some cases, complement, technological advances. “At the community level, the data reveal sharper variation, with smaller, more rural communities significantly more exposed to automation-driven task replacement,” the report states, “and smaller metros more vulnerable than larger ones.”

That explains, partially, why Toledo, Ohio is No. 1 on the list and the Greensboro-High Point, N.C. region is No. 2.

A third factor in the region’s vulnerability to automation comes in higher education rates. “Among the larger metros with the lowest current-task automation risk comes a ‘who’s who’ of well-educated and technology oriented centers,” the report states.

That follows the five cities with the lowest average automation potential rates, the study found, all under 43%: Washington, D.C.; San Jose; New York; Durham-Chapel Hill, N.C.; and Boston. “These metro areas are relatively protected by their specializations in durable professional, business, and financial services occupations,” the report states, “combined with relatively large education and health enterprises.”


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