Author, Charleston native Alec Ross says WV must shift, adapt economy

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Alec Ross

Alec Ross loves West Virginia.

He grew up in Charleston and as he circumnavigated the world as Secretary of State Hillary’ Clinton’s senior adviser for innovation, he never forgot his roots.

“I love West Virginia,” Ross said. “Nobody loves West Virginia more than me.”

That’s why when last year, as Ross released “The Industries of the Future,” a New York Times best-selling book he describes as “mostly optimistic,” he wanted families in West Virginia to read it. The book takes topics that at first glance are hard to understand and makes them easy to grasp.

His book attempts to answer the question: “What will the next big industry be?” He writes about how fields like robotics, genomics and coded money will soon rise up across the world.

“I wrote the book to basically provide a glimpse of what’s around the corner,” Ross said. “I wish I had read a book 20 years ago that described the impact that the internet and globalization were going to have on the world. What I’m really trying to do here is help families anticipate the changes that are coming, so that they can prepare themselves and they can prepare their kids.”

The book was so successful that Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, assigned the book to his cabinet members last year to read.

Ross will speak Thursday evening at West Virginia University’s David C. Hardesty Festival of Ideas, an event co-sponsored by the Gazette-Mail. The event is free and open to the public. It will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the Maier Performance Hall of the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences. A book signing will follow.

Ross’ speech will focus on how West Virginia should prepare itself for a wave of globalization.

Even though Ross loves the Mountain State, that doesn’t mean he can’t find faults with it. Over the past years, Ross said the state and its leaders have not kept up with the increasing role that technology places in the world economy.

“West Virginia has done a very poor job of adapting to globalization,” he said. “We never pivoted from an industrial economy to an information-based economy ... if the next 10 years are going to be better than the last ten years for West Virginia, then there are going to have to be some shifts. It’s as simple as that.

“One thing I believe with very strong conviction is, the kids who I went to high school with at George Washington High School are made of the same stuff as the people who sat across the table from me in the White House situation room. Talent is universal, but opportunity is not.”

Though Ross has spent his adult life circling the globe and traveling hundreds and hundred of miles, he got his start in West Virginia. He went on to study at Northwestern University and while many of his friends there took summers to complete flashy internships in the political world, Ross came back to Charleston.

He said that West Virginia, in order to be successful in the coming years, needs to “stop obsessing with coal,” and start obsessing with the industries of the future. He said it doesn’t matter if people don’t want to embrace futuristic industries — old manufacturing jobs are not coming back.

“We can’t just sit around and sing ‘Kumbaya’ and hope the economy gets better,” Ross said. “You have to do things.”

Reach Jake Jarvis at jake.jarvis@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-7939, Facebook.com/newsroomjake or follow @NewsroomJake on Twitter.

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