Orange County Partnership - News

  • Principal of BBA

Some Simple Advice on How Young and Old Can Become or Remain Digitally Relevant

Veteran business and economic development consultant Dean Barber believes that smaller communities can, and should, take advantage of the digital technology transformation that is currently providing significant revenue and high-paying jobs in mostly major urban centers at the moment.

The growth in this sector in the coming years is expected to be off the charts. Barber notes that by 2025, the United States will have 25 million digital jobs.

His key piece of advice for small towns and villages here in Orange County and elsewhere is to require every K-12 student learn computer science. While not every student will enter the computer/digital field, it will offer job opportunities that provide a path to a profession whose median salary is $80,000, nearly double the national average. Barber also notes that technology and digital skills training can benefit low-income workers aged 50 and older. 

For the full article by Barber entitled: “Want Your Community to Prosper? Embrace This” see below.

Want Your Community to Prosper? Embrace This.

By Dean Barber

This article is from our latest edition of The Rising Tide, a weekly online publication for economic developers and business people. To read more, subscribe here.

As an economic development consultant, I work primarily in smaller and midsized markets and not what I refer to as NFL cities. In many of these places, I hear a frequent lament—that many young people leave to go off to college and never to return.

The truth is that a digital technology transformation is happening in all industry sectors. Increasingly, companies are turning to automation, robotics, and a wide variety of digital technologies in what is becoming a digital economy. 

By 2025, the United States will have 25 million digital jobs—more than the number of manufacturing and construction jobs combined. These jobs will have a median salary of $80,000, nearly double the national average, according to The Wall Street Journal.

That said, if I was to make just one recommendation, one single suggestion on how a smaller community can sustain itself and grow, it would be this: Increase digital literacy by requiring that every K-12 student learn computer science. 

And yet only 51% of U.S. high schools teach computer science in 2021, and only 10 states provide classes for all grades, according to a recent report by The Advocacy Coalition, Computer Science Teachers Association, and the Expanding Computing Education Pathways Alliance.

Rural schools and urban schools with high percentages of economically disadvantaged students, continue to be less likely to offer computer science courses. Foundational is giving young people, really all people, access to broadband Internet. That's where it starts as it has become a basic utility like electricity.

Brutal Facts

Currently, our digital economy has largely concentrated its dynamism in five metropolitan areas—San Francisco, Seattle, New York, Boston, and Austin. Those five metros account for 90% of innovation job growth in recent decades, according to a 2019 Brookings and Innovation Technology and Innovation Foundation report. It is in there where digital technologies create trillion-dollar companies, where entrepreneurs become billionaire entrepreneurs, and where six-figure salaries are paid to workers in their twenties.

What's more, nearly 50% of digital service jobs are located in 10 major metro centers. As for the others, nearly 63 of the country’s 100 largest metro regions saw their share of tech jobs actually decline in the past decade.

Do Not Give Up

Community leaders in smaller and mid-sized markets may be intimidated by those daunting numbers. But I say that they cannot throw up their hands and just give up on the belief that they cannot compete for digital jobs. You have to compete. Those are the future jobs and the best way for a community to remain relevant and grow is to substantially increase digital literacy. Again, you do that by requiring every K-12 student to learn computer science.

That does not mean that every student should become a coder. But all students need to understand computer basics in order to find, evaluate, interpret, research, analyze, and produce information critically, as well as to clearly communicate on various digital platforms. The future is there waiting to be grabbed. I say go for it.

Not Just for the Young

The goal of increasing digital literacy should not be only directed at young people. For older workers, keeping digital skills fresh can be the key to staying employed.

Recently, the AARP Foundation and Google’s philanthropy arm,, are joining forces to provide technology and digital skills training to low-income older workers ages 50 and up.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on just how difficult it can be for some older workers to pivot amid a shift in circumstances.

Much of whether or not older workers can earn more and better compete for jobs comes down to their digital skills, separate research from the Urban Institute found. The program’s training sessions, which are slated to begin in March, aim to help participants find jobs, change careers or become entrepreneurs. The program will be initially offered in Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Texas.

Dean Barber is the principal of BBA, a Dallas-based advisory firm, and publisher of the weekly newsletter The Rising Tide. He has worked with economic development organizations nationwide to help communities become better places for business investment and job creation. He has also provided a wide array of national and international companies with location advisory analysis, incentive negotiation, and startup transition. Prior to founding BBA, Dean was the Director of International Development at the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, assisting companies to establish business operations in that state. He also served as the Vice President, Business Development, at Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership. Before economic development and consulting, Barber was the Business Editor of The Birmingham News in Birmingham, Ala. For more information, go to