5 Businesses of the Future

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CHICAGO (TheStreet) -- Economic forecasting isn't exactly a science; if it was, most investors would have sold off their stock holdings in 2007. But demographic data can be used to divine general trends about what Americans will be buying and selling in the years ahead. And small businesses that cater to those needs will have a big advantage.

Every year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases employment projections for the coming decade, including a list of the fastest-growing occupations. While the listings are helpful for college students trying to decide on a marketable major or job-switchers trying to move into a more promising field, they can also serve as a road map for business opportunities.

We've heard plenty about the country's shift to a service-based economy, and the most recent BLS numbers show that trend continuing. Of the jobs created in the next decade, the vast majority (96%) will be in the service industry. Occupations expected to add the most workers include restaurant servers and cooks, landscapers, administrative assistants, security guards, maintenance workers and child-care staff.

Most of those jobs are relatively low-skill and low-paid, which has added to the hand-wringing over the state of the American economy. But job growth is also expected to be steady for service professions requiring specialized training. As the U.S. population increases, so will its need for doctors, nurses and teachers. Bookkeepers, accountants and auditors are also expected to be in demand.

The BLS also publishes a round-up of the fastest-growing occupations. These five industries are expected to see rapid job growth, and they're all fields where small companies can make a mark:

MEDICAL RESEARCH Facing the imminent loss of valuable patents on blockbuster drugs, large drug companies are scrambling to find their next big moneymakers. But Americans' quest for cures continues -- whether it's a magic pill that targets obesity or a specialized gene therapy for an obscure inherited disease. That leaves an opening for smaller research companies willing and able to take risks.

GREEN JOBS Many "green jobs" projects are years away from reality. In the meantime, companies recognize sustainability isn't just a slogan -- it's something customers and business partners expect to see in action. Jobs for environmental engineers are expected to increase, and firms that specialize in environmental consulting and planning should benefit from the increasing pressure to go green.

HEALTH CARE Yes, there will be increasing demand for physicians, nurses and veterinarians. But what's increasing even faster is the need for less highly trained assistants. Some of the fastest-growing jobs over the next decade will be home health and personal care aides, physical therapy assistants, veterinary technicians and pharmacy assistants. Companies supplying those workers will find themselves very much in demand.

WELLNESS Over the next decade, there will be more job openings for athletic trainers and fitness instructors, partly as a result of an aging U.S. population that turns to exercise to stay healthy. Another growth industry catering to the boomer demographic? Skin care specialists. To keep the mind active, there's expected to be growing demand for self-enrichment education teachers: people who lead classes and seminars students take for personal reasons rather than to complete a degree. Got an idea for a business that appeals to retirees' quest for healthy living? Now's a great time to launch it.

BUSINESS SERVICES Layoffs have swept through all levels of corporate America, but certain office professions will still see strong growth. Financial examiners and compliance officers will be needed to stay on top of growing regulations, and network systems analysts are crucial to keeping companies' computer systems in shape. Staffing and consulting companies that address these specific needs should see steady opportunities for growth.

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