September 29, 2023
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Economists: Housing, manufacturing and robotics will shape tri-county’s future


A lack of new housing supply, the loss of manufacturing jobs and the rise of robotics are all major economic factors that will have widespread impacts on the region, state and nation over the next several years.

That’s according to some of the region’s and nation’s most prominent economists, who convened May 9 for the annual UC Santa Barbara South Santa Barbara County Economic Summit in front of more than 500 people.

“It’s not obvious what people who can’t find work in manufacturing are going to do,” said Russ Roberts, research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. “We need a different kind of education. We need training. We need apprenticeships. We need to train people to live with robots. It’s going to happen.”

The four-hour event opened with a video tribute to Michael Towbes, the banker, developer and philanthropist who died last month at 86. The speakers focused on a wide range of eclectic topics, including the future of the country’s workforce, international globalization and the role of big data in helping to eradicate malaria in Africa.

Pablos Holman, inventor for Intellectual Ventures Laboratory, took a few jabs at the economists in the room, and said that the future lies in big ideas and big data and the ability to use the human creative process to solve the world’s problems, not just create the latest app to have “food delivered to your dorm room.”

“We have to invent,” he said. “We have to find new ways.”

His Silicon Valley company is using big data to help destroy mosquitoes that spread malaria in Africa. He said big data can help visionaries predict multiple future scenarios and then develop a plan of attack.

“Nobody has ever invented new technology by reading the directions,” he said.

He also reminded the crowd that as Americans, even on their worst day, they are still in the top 14 percent of earnings globally, and that they are better off than most of the rest of the world.

He said automation and virtual reality will continue to put people out of jobs, so it’s important for those people to learn new skills and figure out ways to solve bigger problems throughout the world.

“At some point, a robot is going to take your job and give you a lot more free time,” Holman said.

Peter Rupert, executive director of the UCSB Economic Forecast, said housing prices have cooled off a bit — growing at about 2.99 percent over the last year. He said Santa Barbara continues to remain expensive because rental prices are above the national median but incomes in Santa Barbara are below it.

Rupert said Santa Barbara doesn’t create a lot of new firms, but the ones who do get off the ground tend to survive. He agreed that robotics will be the major factor driving the economy going forward.

“If you want to see us speed up the use of robots, make the minimum wage $15 an hour,” Rupert said.

• Contact Joshua Molina at