Automation is a trend that has been both applauded and feared in American society for decades, and from an economic development perspective, technological change and automation can create winners and losers.

For a number of industries, automation has taken production and completion to more efficient, and in some cases, unseen levels. Yet without adaptive strategies, automation is expected to widen the gaps in economic opportunity between urban and rural places, and reinforce income inequality between workers with and without specialized skills. 

While rural areas and workers are expected to be disproportionately impacted by automation in the years ahead, they are not destined to experience economic losses due to automation. With funding from the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Research and National Technical Assistance (RNTA) program, the Center on Rural Innovation (CORI) put together a series of five briefs offering insight into what the future of work means for rural America. This fourth brief addresses the question of how automation has impacted, is impacting, and will continue to impact rural America in the coming years, and breaks down these trends across occupations, industries, places and people.   

Based on a historical and economic analysis, we provide four recommendations for rural leaders to consider when creating economic and workforce development strategies and programs:

  • Incorporate the impact of automation into economic development and workforce planning 
  • Build local partnerships to support skilling and reskilling programs 
  • Support businesses in adopting automation technologies to stay competitive 
  • Develop digital entrepreneurship ecosystems 

Through this work, we aim to equip rural economic and workforce development leaders with the latest research and thinking on the future of work to help inform strategy, programs, and planning work.

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This content was prepared by Rural Innovations Strategies, Inc. using Federal funds under award ED20HDQ3120070 from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce. The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Economic Development Administration or the U.S. Department of Commerce.