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Over the last few years, we’ve published a series of reports describing what we think will be the jobs of the future in this, the age of automation, algorithms and artificial intelligence. In this report, we outline where many of these new jobs will appear, starting with the insight that jobs of the future often stem from unlikely places.

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Virtual Space | 21 Places of the Future

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The cities and towns that we profile range from the large to the small, the old to the new, and the well-known to the little known. What they have in common is that they’re hotbeds of innovation and new ideas, offer vast and intriguing cultural and lifestyle amenities, and have a demonstrated propensity to create — or recreate — a future by offering their citizens the work of the future.

The following figure illustrates the complex methodology we used. To learn more, read our full report, “21 Places  of the Future.”

Note that the places we feature often anchor on one key technology or concept. For example:

  • Cybersecurity. Tel Aviv in Israel is an established, successful location for cyber innovation and keeping data safe.
  • Digital twins. Wellington, New Zealand, invested early in a cloud-based digital replica of its physical self and hastened its rebuild following a major 2016 earthquake.
  • Fintech. In Kenya, Nairobi’s digital advances have reinvented it as a highly adaptable financial services metropolis.

  • E-sports. Dundee, Scotland, has successfully fused the tech-heavy worlds of gaming and design.

  • Sustainability. India’s Kochi airport is powered entirely by solar energy.

  • Diversity and inclusion. Atlanta is one of the Western Hemisphere’s burgeoning innovation economies, sourcing some of the most diverse talent in the U.S.

  • Digital engineering. Shenzhen, China, showcases world-class lessons in the power of rapid prototyping at its Huaqiangbei electronics market.

  • Virtual workplaces. Remotopia (that is, our conceptual destination for remote work) features huge, cloud-based infrastructure investments that showcase the power of supporting millions of telecommuting employees with modern systems.

The 21 places

The map below reveals all 21 of our selections, and we’ve spotlighted just a few of them (along with their notable strengths and areas for enrichment according to our methodology), citing four locales from various continents — and one from much farther away.

Da Nang, Vietnam

  • High points: Affordability, Environment
  • Need improvement: Talent pool, Culture & Entertainment

This melting pot of Vietnam’s old and new is morphing from a simple coastal town to a global destination, poised to become the next transformation jewel of Southeast Asia. A central coastal city that acted as the U.S. airbase during the Vietnam War, Da Nang is making strides toward becoming an eco-smart urban area, a hub for startups and innovation, and one of the most livable cities in Asia.

More than just a tourist hotspot, Da Nang is all about growth — massive growth — and it’s poised to become an investment destination for the world. Rampant construction and incipient skyscrapers are proof of a new Da Nang in the making. To stimulate post-COVID-19 consumer demand, Da Nang is eyeing stimulus investments to promote domestic businesses, and a restructuring of the tourism sector.

The next decade will also see Da Nang flooded with tech talent. The city has set up a Da Nang Business Incubator and is developing a startup training network. Its Information Technology Park is expected to generate US$1.5 billion in revenue per year and 25,000 jobs.

Lisbon, Portugal

  • High points: Architecture, Infrastructure and more
  • Need improvement: Lifestyle, Tech Investment

With its rich history, Mediterranean climate and status as a world “capital of cool,” Portugal’s largest city is at once an aspirational tech innovator and a must-live city for Europe’s young workforce. From the ashes of the 2010 financial crisis, Lisbon has reinvented itself as a global hub of innovation and near-shore services for Continental Europe.

The growth of the city’s tech scene has been astounding. Portugal’s startup ecosystem is growing twice as fast as the European average, according to Startup Europe Partnership, and Lisbon is now one of the biggest startup hubs in Europe. The city is home to over 30 incubators and accelerators and nearly 50 co-working spaces, according to Invest Lisboa.

To live up to its promise, though, Lisbon must overcome structural issues stemming from previous governments, particularly its legacy bureaucracy. The city is striving to provide more public services through digital means and is investing in advanced technologies that support “digital by default” operations.

Nairobi, Kenya

  • High points: Talent pool, Environment and more
  • Need improvement: Culture & Entertainment, Lifestyle

With the economic center of gravity in Africa shifting from the south to the north. Nairobi is emerging as a hub of innovation and culture — a future African superpower. This vibrant city is shaking off its colonial past and reinventing itself as a highly adaptable technology and financial services metropolis.

The coronavirus has served to highlight Nairobi’s adaptability; local authorities were quick to act, and local manufacturers quickly pivoted to the production of personal protective equipment.

Nairobi’s standing on the global stage is best portrayed by the amount of investment that it’s received. While foreign direct investment (FDI) is dropping globally because of the pandemic, Kenya is still one of the largest recipients of FDI in Africa, according to the UN, due largely to its technology initiatives.

Young Kenyans are flocking to Nairobi, and they’re infusing it with optimism, entrepreneurship and a drive to succeed. The city’s innovative and bustling ecosystem includes both established brands and tech startup incubators such as iHub and Nairobi Garage. More cars equal more traffic, so privately funded satellite cities are popping up around Nairobi, most notably Tatu City and Konza Technopolis.

Outer space

  • High points: Potential!
  • Need improvement: Attainability

The idea of space as a place of the future may seem far-fetched, but in truth, a new age of exploration is upon us. Space is a new frontier of exploration and innovation of “new worlds” that will rival the Age of Exploration in the 15th and 16th centuries. And just as terra nova in America, Africa and Asia morphed over time into places like New York, Cape Town and Hong Kong, so too will the Moon, Mars, space stations and space hotels become “places” of the 21st century.

COVID-19 may be another factor encouraging some to seek pastures new. The (embryonic) space industry is already worth over $400 billion, according to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. Morgan Stanley forecasts a $1 trillion value worldwide by 2040. China wants an Earth-Moon space economic zone to generate $10 trillion in annual services by 2050. In 2019, the U.S. established the first new military service in over 70 years — the Space Force.

São Paolo, Brazil

  • High points: Infrastructure, Culture & Entertainment
  • Need improvement: Lifestyle, Environment

For many, Brazil conjures images of caipirinhas by the beach and dizzying displays on the soccer pitch. But while that may tell the story of nights and weekends, by day, Paulistanos (as locals self-identify) work just as hard as they play. São Paulo leads all of Brazil in GDP, scientific production, number of expatriates and artistic output. These factors have contributed to its status as the leading business hub in Latin America.

And as the factors combine to spark its startup and innovation scene, São Paulo is primed to become a global leader in that arena, as well. The past 10 years in São Paulo have seen the opening of new offices for Google, Facebook, Airbnb and every other tech company looking to do business in Latin America. The creative and entrepreneurial talent cultivated at those offices has been a galvanizing force in São Paulo’s startup scene. 

The future of work may not necessarily be in “places of the now,” like London or New York or Cupertino or Berlin or Bangalore. Increasingly, it’s going to be in places like those analyzed in this report. All of us potentially have the power to make our places fit for the future. We hope we’ve offered some ideas — perhaps controversial or at least unconventional — on how to go about doing that.

To learn more, read our full report, “21 Places of the Future,” visit the Center for the Future of Work or contact us.