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Mbusiness Link - A publication of the University of Michigan Business Engagement Center

MBusinessLink is a quarterly e-newsletter produced by the University of Michigan's Business Engagement Center. The publication brings together all of the news on events, research, resources, and opportunities for industry engagement at the University of Michigan.

Future Speak

America’s rapidly changing population poses both opportunities and challenges to companies that design and manufacture consumer products and provide customer services. To learn more about these criticalsocietal shifts, 10 companies are participating in the Society 2030 consortium, a three-year program that engages industry leaders and University of Michigan researchers in planning for the nation’s future.

“We are facing a demographic revolution,” said Dr. Toni Antonucci, a research professor at the U-M Institute for Social Research, who is leading Society 2030. “The changing shape of our society has important implications for individuals, families, communities, and organizations of all types, because our population will have different needs in the future. Each company will have to think about the potential impact to its business organization and its bottom line.”

As the baby boomers turn 65 (between 2010 and 2030), they will swell the ranks of older Americans to 72 million people. That is, one in five Americans will be 65 or older. The demographic impact will be significant, Antonucci said.

On the plus side, adults may stay active and productive at work longer, engage in more recreational and travel activities after they retire, and require different types of devices to help them remain independent. Families may be responsible for four or five generations of family members, requiring both child care and elder care at the same time. On the negative side, rising rates of obesity and diabetes may cause young people to become disabled earlier and require special assistance to help them at work and home.    Companies that can identify and respond nimbly to these consumer and marketplace changes will be better positioned for future growth and profitability.

Launched in 2010, the Society 2030 consortium gathered broad-based information about population changes and key issues during its first year and then formed work groups during its second year to address concerns related to workers and the work place, the living and working environment, the consumption of goods and services, and health across the life span. At the end of 2012 each work group will report its findings and recommendations.   

Steelcase Inc., a West Michigan-based designer and manufacturer of workplace furnishings, became a Society 2030 member last year. Melanie Redman, a senior design researcher in WorkSpace Futures Explorations, said her company welcomed the opportunity to partner with U-M researchers in medicine, engineering, psychology and other fields and to collaborate with product planners and designers from other Michigan corporations, such as Ford Motor Co., Dow Corning Corp., Amway, and Domino’s Pizza.

“Usually industry-academic partnerships are one-on-one,” Redman explained. “So the opportunity to participate in a forum where multiple corporations and researchers from different disciplines have come together to share information on a confidential basis was very appealing to us.”

Through Society 2030, Steelcase hopes to expand its network of corporate and academic researchers, gain greater access to research conducted at the University, and find new collaborators for future studies.

“Companies always benefit when they broaden their scope to include outside expertise,” Redman said. “Partnering with others on research projects not only extends our own resources, but also prevents us from breathing our own exhaust.”

 

More information: Contact Wayne McCullough, director of corporate and foundation relations at the Institute for Social Research, at wrmccull@isr.umich.edu or 734-615-6655 or visit www.society2030.org.