Technology is focus of this year's Central Coast Business Symposium

The future of the online marketplace and business technology was explored Tuesday at the fifth annual Central Coast Business Symposium.

Hundreds of local business owners from around the Central Coast attended the event, which was sponsored by San Luis Obispo law firm Andre, Morris & Buttery and held at the Clark Center at Arroyo Grande High School. The event is designed to foster networking between local business owners and offer guidance on how to improve the local economy.

The symposium featured Simon Anderson, who started, an online company designed to help companies forecast how future technology will shape their economic landscape. Also on the program were former FBI agent Don Vilfer, who was to talk about cybersecurity, and business consultant Jeff Thompson, who was to outline how to become a stronger company in tough times.

Anderson believes technology is outpacing current financial models for many industries, including health care, education and manufacturing. His speech focused on the discrepancy between where businesses are today and where technology will take them in the future.

“Technology is improving exponentially,” Anderson said. “If businesses don’t recognize the trends in advance and adapt, they’ll go the way of companies like Kodak and Blockbuster.”

Anderson said businesses will need to appeal to consumers he called “digital natives” — those born in the 1980s and later who have grown up with smartphones and video games, and who are accustomed to rapid technological growth. To cater to this group, Anderson said, companies must do more of their business online and offer services over goods.

Those born in the digital age prefer to stream their music rather than buy it and defer to car-borrowing services such as Zipcar for transportation rather than purchasing an automobile, according to Anderson.“Digital natives value access over ownership,” Anderson said. “Understanding the way they influence the marketplace is critical.”

Anderson stressed that emerging technology will make some traditional industries obsolete. Digital learning may overtake university enrollment, he said. Anderson added that traditional manufacturing may be eliminated by three-dimensional printers, machines that can mold products from base materials using a digital model. Anderson believes these machines will be able to produce everything from cars to houses and even food.

“I can’t imagine there’s anything they won’t be able to print in the future,” he said.

Previously open to the public, this year’s symposium was by invitation only, as it was primarily designed to cater to local business owners, according to Kathryn M. Eppright of Andre, Morris & and Buttery.

The firm began the Central Coast Business Symposium in 2009.