The technological revolution is disrupting the business model of my industry, media, but also many others. The web is connecting sellers and consumers in new ways, and various technological advancements seem to be eliminating many functions previously performed by human workers.

I wonder where the jobs are going to be in the future.

Of particular concern is the retail business.

For one, retail advertising has been the lifeblood of local media. Subscription revenue pays for a minority fraction of the cost of the journalism and its delivery, whether in printed form or over the internet. Commercial media have mostly been financed by advertising.

Every brick-and-mortar retail establishment that shrinks or closes is a blow to the revenue stream of a newspaper or other local media outlet. But of course the disruption is multifaceted. The effect on media is but one ripple effect.

Catalog shopping and Walmart took their toll on downtowns, where locally owned department stores, men’s and women’s clothing and shoe stores used to reside. Four-lane highways took shoppers down the road to bigger cities believed to have greener shopping pastures.

And now we have online shopping disrupting the retail business. Some national retailers have adapted and innovated. Some haven’t. Sears, for example, is among the latter. The company allowed its Sears and Kmart stores to stagnate and its signature brands – Craftsman and Kenmore – to decline relative to competitors. Sears may not even be around in a year. Penney’s is in better shape but has been distressed for several years.

Hutchinson has struggled with the changes. But its mall seemed on a roll last year with a beautiful big-box sports retailer going into the Sears space at the mall and several other name-brand retailers occupying the former Dillard’s space. Now Penney’s is closing. Hutchinson also saw a plethora of restaurants open in the past couple of years. People just knew that the market couldn’t support all those restaurants, and Hutch is starting to see closures there, too.

Part of the problem is the country has become over-retailed (and over-restauranted). We’re going to see retraction everywhere. Maybe wealthy and booming areas such as suburban Johnson County will sustain physical retail development. But it appears it’s going to be tough around here. Consumers seem to be willing to turn to the internet or hop in the car and drive to Wichita if they want a real shopping experience.

Amazon is the new Walmart, disrupting retail with online shopping just as the original big box did to Main Street merchants three or four decades ago. A person can easily shop for a variety of items and have them express-delivered to the home as an all-too-convenient alternative to getting in the car and making the rounds to make the purchases physically.

Good for consumers, I guess. But not for the part of the labor pool that relies on customer service and sales help jobs. Amazon has huge warehouses, but those jobs surely are many fewer.

Part of the message for us as consumers here is to shop local and support the local economy. But we’ve been preaching that for years.

Economic developers and urban planners have a big challenge here. Retail needs to be given as much consideration as industry when it comes to job growth and retention. And we will need innovative visionaries in community leadership to imagine how today’s commercial districts remade can look 10 years from now.

 

John D. Montgomery is a senior group publisher for GateHouse Media in Kansas. Twitter @jdmont. Email: jmontgomery@gatehousemedia.com.