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5/31/16 The Future of Malls …and other things.

At a recent meeting of The Presidents Forum, Tony L’Altrelli, a Partner at Withum, told us about a futurist that spoke to the Withum Partners. This social scientist talked about trends and possibilities for the future as part of a broader discussion about long-range planning, risk management, and market opportunities.   L’Altrelli mentioned that one of the major changes affecting retail merchandising in the foreseeable future is that many malls will close and many retail jobs will be lost. Malls already face high vacancies. Just as the rise of malls precipitated the decline of the downtown retail shopping district, so changing lifestyles and technology will bring about a decline in this 60-year-old way of shopping. This is, of course, a reflection of the broader changes affecting America.   It has been said that one key to America’s ongoing success has been our ability to adapt and change. When faced with adversity and opportunity, as a nation we often experiment, adapt, and eventually embrace change. Our federal system allows us to experiment, state by state. From our humble beginnings as a nation, through world wars, recessions, and all manner of adversity, we have often been global leaders in recognizing the inherent opportunities that positive change can bring. Sometimes we as a nation, are dragged by events, kicking and screaming, but we eventually get there. For example, Americans haven’t always been hospitable to waves of immigrants, even though immigration has proven to be a long term source of strength.   Economists sometimes use the term “creative destruction” to describe the winnowing process which replaces old business models with better more creative alternatives. And this process is often painful; there are winners and losers.   It is apparent that America is undergoing great change; there is a lot of creative destruction happening. At least we all hope it’s creative. Technology and globalization have torched the flame of tumultuous change inside our borders and beyond. From the way we purchase goods and services, to how we communicate and travel, and including the demographic changes reshaping our nation, it appears we are living that old Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times “.   We all know that change can be uncomfortable. We have only to look underneath the current political process in both parties to realize many Americans are anxious, even angry. But we also know that change is inevitable. In many ways the train has left the station; are we going to be on that train?   The Futurist who spoke to Withum had an overall message that change can be a good thing for ourselves, for our families, for our businesses, and for our communities. But only if we recognize it and face it head on.  Have we evaluated the personal and professional risks and opportunities we may be facing in this environment? Do we have a plan?

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