Jim Dinegar has been a regular and prominent voice for developing our region’s economy for many years, first as president and CEO of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, and now directing business in the capitol at the Kogod School of Business. Jim Dinegar, it’s great to have you here.
DINEGAR: Jonathan, it’s great to be here. Thanks for the invite.
ABERMAN: Let’s talk first about your new gig, and what business in the capitol is about.
DINEGAR: Well, I think that American University is this jewel in Northwest Washington that, maybe, keeps a little bit to itself, and yet there’s so much that it has to offer to the greater Washington region and to business in general. And so, if I can help shine a bit more of a spotlight, get it out from behind the walls a little bit more, and connect it to businesses here, the greater Washington region is thriving, and American University is thriving. The Kogod School of Business is the oldest accredited business school in Washington, and yet, I think it’s a bit passed over at different times, and I hope to help change that with the new Dean, and the team that they have of great faculty and great staff there.
ABERMAN: This show is very much focused on teasing out all the great stories that we see about how people are getting things done here in D.C.. From your perspective, having been part of this ecosystem for so long, what makes Washington D.C. what it is?
DINEGAR: Well, you know, you just wrote a piece on the millennial study, and AU did this great report. I would tell you that this place isn’t for everybody. And so, you made special note that there’s a net migration out of the greater Washington region, and I’m okay with that. It’s not about the numbers. It’s about who’s here, and what they get done. This is a place where the joke used to be every Junior Class President found his or her way to Washington D.C.. Type-A personalities, very motivated, cause-related, there’s something in the DNA of the people here that drives them, and it’s not about the money. It’s about the mission, in many respects. And so, when you look at what really does drive people, and they eat, sleep, and breathe the different issues, or the different products, or services, or whatever they’re marketing, it’s all the time. It’s, really, in certain respects, a 24-hour region, even though maybe some of the services don’t support the 24-hour region. That’s captivating to me. It’s motivating to me. And when I see some of those stories, and really what drives people a lot of times, most of the times, it relates back to mission.
ABERMAN: You know, I have spoken with people who work with entrepreneurs on both sides of the country, and what they will often say to me is that, in Silicon Valley, you become an entrepreneur because you want to get rich, but here you become an entrepreneur because you want to serve, and you want to get something done.
DINEGAR: Well, you want to make a difference. I mean, so, same thing. I would say you want to get something done, and often that means it’s making a difference, and it’s making a difference in people’s lives. Maybe it’s in the healthcare-related field. Maybe it’s in transportation. Maybe it’s some new idea that makes things easier for people that have mobility issues. I mean, it’s all across the board. I had the distinct honor and pleasure to work on the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the implementation of it when I represented the commercial real estate industry. I moved over to the American Institute of Architects. I don’t think I’ve ever dealt with more passionate members in my life, and yet they were designing things for sustainability, livable communities, making schools more of a center of community. I mean, it was fascinating to hear and watch what they would do.
At the Board of Trade, oh my goodness. I think the business community gets underrepresented, and it maybe doesn’t get the credit it deserves for the good work it does to reach back out to the community. Supporting the food banks, or United Way, or Junior Achievement, and helping on financial literacy. It’s tireless. And so, it’s not just about making money in the greater Washington region. In many respects, it’s about making a difference.
ABERMAN: One thing that I’ve seen recently, and it’s really struck me is, all the dysfunction that is happening downtown now in government, I’m seeing it affecting entrepreneurs in one of two ways, and I feel like we’re at a crossroads. One is, I’m hearing people say the world is so messed up, I just want to disengage and go live on a desert island. And then, another group of people are saying, it’s so messed up, I’ve just got to figure out how to make things better. But it feels like we’re at a crossroads in our business community. Am I feeling that right?
DINEGAR: Well, so, I’ll go back on that millennial study, right? There are going to be people who cut and run. Oh, man, this isn’t for me, too much chaos, this is unbelievable, I can’t handle it. I know, I get it, best of luck in Iowa. But if you’re staying here, you’re here to get some things done, you’re here to make a difference. You’ve got something different in your DNA. That’s not picking on people in Iowa, because God knows they work very hard. It’s just different work when you’re not in the greater Washington region.
So let me just spend a minute on that. If you’re here, and it’s chaos, there are people who thrive on chaos. I’ve never seen K Street busier. You don’t know if you’re coming or going, but my goodness, they’re working on both sides and handling it. And there’s some level of predictability that’s here. It’s predictable chaos, in certain respects, and people can handle that. It’s a complex problem. It’s three-level chess. It’s not a Rubik’s cube, and it’s certainly not checkers.
And so, as you look at the tackling of the issues here, it’s a fascinating time. It’s not for the meek, and I’ll say one more thing: as you look at the bigger issues, you can tease apart some remarkable opportunities. Everybody in this region should be working on an Amazon strategy, until Amazon decides where they’re going to move. I hear from different business leaders of what their strategy is going to be as it relates to real estate, or hiring, and recruiting and retaining the game changers that would happen under Amazon.
As you look at automation and the big issues associated with that, what’s your automation strategy? What is your workforce strategy in a region that has about three percent unemployment that seems to be getting lower and tighter? And so, when you look at all these different elements, these are things that American University gets to do some research on, gets to help out by connecting to the region, and I’ll add one last thing, that then plugs in their students, this remarkable group of people who work very hard, and weren’t born with sealed silver spoons in their mouths, to get engaged in the business community that’s thriving in greater Washington.
ABERMAN: Jim, one question that’s been on my mind recently is, clearly, we’re at a crossroads moment with machine learning and artificial intelligence becoming more and more part of the workforce. It seems to me the ground zero, the technology development, is here, and it looks like it’s going to start to affect the workforce as well. What do you think about how these things are going start to play out?
DINEGAR: You know, there’s a balance, and we have to be very careful about the balance, but at a very low unemployment level, difficulties are present in recruiting and retaining the people that we need for the jobs. I don’t care if it’s the McDonalds in Rosalind, or it’s at the convention center, or in high tech as it relates to the parking of cars. I’ve seen at all. I’m up at Wegmans yesterday, getting some lunch, and they have a pizza maker there. It’s not that it makes the whole pizza, but the guy that used to spin the dough, it now puts it into a machine, flattens it out, rolls it out just fine, and there’s your pizza crust. It’s technologies like that, because they’re not able to recruit retain all the people they need for more of the entry level jobs, or the specialty jobs.
McDonald’s out in Rosalind, my goodness, it used to be a bigger shift altogether with the number of people. Now it’s fewer people, and, I’d actually tell you, better service as it relates to putting your order into the kiosk, getting served at your table at a McDonald’s. You can add some special sauce. You can add some extra sriracha, You can add some extra mayonnaise, whatever the different characterization are of your sandwich, and there were even chicken sandwiches I didn’t know McDonald’s sold. but it’s with fewer people on the shift. You’re not walking up to the register and standing in a line. And that’s, I think, in response to the demand that this region has to recruit and retain, as well as the I’ll say, more disposable income.
I saw some technology not long ago up in Maryland for the parking of cars in an automated fashion, and you’d think, why would you need to park your car? Well, because, when I race to the airport, and I’m always running a little late, I’d like to just drop my car and have it park, because that’s another fifteen, twenty minutes to go find a spot and all the rest. I’m not necessarily in a position to afford it yet, but there are people who will, and it’s those types of technologies that are born here.
ABERMAN: In addition to job displacement, though, there’s another thing, which is, I hear that many of these jobs where technology is going to take over brute force of labor, there’s going to be need for a human being who’s got really good people skills, can speak, and can interact with the technology. In other words, it seems to me that we’re going to put a greater premium on broader education instead of technical education. You think that’s true?
DINEGAR: Yes, I think that two elements–customer service still will rule, and the ability to communicate with others, and help others, and provide that customer service. But I’m reminded of the old New Yorker cartoon, where’s It’s the dog and the man in the factory with all of the robots making things and the question was, well, what’s the dog there for? What’s the man there for? And the man’s there to feed the dog, and the dog is there to make sure the man doesn’t touch anything. And I think that there’s a lot to be said for the automation around this region specifically, because of the screaming, crying need to recruit and retain people that are almost unavailable. And as much as you can automate for that, we’ll have the opportunities to do many of those jobs better, technical jobs, AI, the really intense data analysis, things like that.
We’ve got thousands, as you know, thousands and thousands and thousands of cyber jobs that are screaming, that we need to fill them, and we’re not filling them. So, as you can automate, but then also lift more people up through education to get even better jobs, I think it bodes very well for the people of this region and for the region overall.
ABERMAN: Jim, it’s always great getting your perspective. You’re a very optimistic voice for the region’s future. I’m always charged up when we spend time together. Jim, thanks for taking the time.