Tom Ridge

Fortune Favors the Brave

Tom Ridge, first Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and former governor of Pennsylvania, took the stage Thursday for the Breakfast General Session Keynote at NAIOP’s Commercial Real Estate Conference 2015.

As governor of Pennsylvania — for nine years, six months and five days, precisely — Ridge recounted how Pennsylvania encouraged developers to invest in brownfields projects. The state created a land program that set the standard of cleanup of the site for the projected use, which resulted in the redevelopment of more than 700 sites in communities across the state.

Tom RidgeRidge applauded NAIOP’s industry-wide commitment to sustainability, recognizing the association’s actions with federal and state governments. Noting NAIOP’s advocacy works, Ridge offered his appreciation for its work for the real estate industry.

Ridge says that risk management is at the heart of capitalism and is the strength of our economy. Risk-takers built this country. But risk management is making smart decisions: How do you see the threat? How do you deal with it? How do you seize opportunity?

He noted two permanent changes to the environment and how they are affecting our lives and our businesses.

First, the scourge of global terrorism. Since 2001, Ridge says the nature of global terrorism is far deeper and more widespread than it’s ever been. He believes the phrase “war on terror” is the wrong name for the battle. Terrorism is a tactic, and war isn’t waged on a tactic. It’s waged against a belief system, and the number of individuals and the global footprint of those with that belief system is growing.

Managing risk is not a fail-safe system. It’s not preventable, but it’s manageable. Put the risk in perspective: more people died this year because they failed to get their flu shot or wear a seatbelt.

Second is what Ridge calls the “digital forevermore” era. We live in a hyperconnected world. In 1994, only 20 years ago, there was an article in Time magazine explaining to the world what the internet was all about. It called it the “next best thing.” Fast forward 20 years – wow.

In 2015, over 50 percent of the world’s population is connected via the internet. By 2020, there will be 50 billion devices connected. By 2025, the Internet will be as important to your lives as electricity is today.

The Internet is the global fabric that connects us — everything from building technologies to personal wearable devices to even RFID trackers on kids. Ridge says they are wonderful advancements, but there is immense risk associated with its global growth. It’s not an IT problem – it’s a business imperative.

Information sharing is critical, and Ridge emphasizes that the country can’t be secured from inside the beltway. The only way to predict and defend is extensive information sharing to business sectors, including financial services and real estate. It helps create a safe harbor and allows companies to protect their own businesses. Public-private partnerships are critical.

Ridge says one of the nation’s biggest challenges is that citizens, businesses and the government don’t truly appreciate the interdependency and risk associated with cybersecurity. While the “bad guys” and their motives are largely known, the sophistication of these attackers goes unrecognized. Ridge firmly believes that the nation needs to be more aggressive in public condemnation of the attackers.

In closing, Ridge noted that the U.S. has always been a nation of risk-takers, and real estate is a leader in both that risk and its reward.

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