By: Ann Sullivan, Executive Director of the Women Veterans Business Coalition
Technology and innovation have driven economic growth in the United States, improving marketplace efficiencies and giving small businesses a platform to reach consumers well beyond their geographical boundaries.
In the face of a global pandemic and unprecedented economic fallout, there’s no denying the role technology has played in better positioning individuals and employers to adapt to the “new normal” of the last 10 months. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, for America’s small businesses, technology has been the difference between staying open and surviving versus going under and losing everything.
Many retail stores have been operating under severe capacity restrictions or physically closed to foot traffic, while consumers have overwhelmingly opted to avoid in-person outings. Adapting to these challenging times through the use of technology has given business owners the ability to continue to sell their products and adapt their service offerings.
Roughly two months into the pandemic, one study revealed that “nearly one-third of owners said that without digital technology, they would have been forced to close all or part of their businesses.”
But as we look toward economic recovery, challenges still remain.
In an economic landscape where nearly 60 percent of businesses that closed as a result of the pandemic are expected to remain permanently shuttered, small businesses face an uphill battle as they fight to emerge from the economic repercussions of COVID-19.
What’s more, while the viability of American small businesses remains a concern for the nation’s economic recovery as well as their own individual survival, the American public is also concerned, with 83 percent saying they are worried about the survival of small businesses. A MetLife and U.S. Chamber of Commerce survey found that more than 50 percent of minority-owned small businesses are worried about the impact of COVID-19 on the local economy. Another survey found that fewer than half of surveyed women business owners feel that the health of their business is “good.”
And they are right to be alarmed. The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) released data showing that one in four small businesses could be forced to close their doors within the next six months if economic conditions remain the same.
America’s mayors uniquely understand that the economic recovery of our cities and municipalities will hinge on the revival of the small business sector. As of 2019, there were 30.7 million small businesses across America that employed nearly half of the private workforce in the United States. Small employers make up the fabric of our communities and provide jobs, support local economies and give back to the communities they serve.
Last week, mayors from more than 1,400 cities met virtually for the annual winter meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Our leaders at the municipal level discussed policies to help put communities, and the small businesses that populate Main Street, back on the path to recovery.
Although COVID-19 has drastically changed our reality, the American technology sector provides a critical lifeline for these small businesses. According to data from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 75 percent of small enterprises are using tech platforms for sales. A study by Deloitte found that 90 percent of small- and medium-sized businesses said “digital tools have helped foster innovation in their business.”
As the voice for women veteran-owned businesses, we are concerned about the lingering economic effects of COVID-19 on America’s small businesses. But prioritizing policies that keep our domestic technology sector competitive will also keep Main Street America competitive. And the American public agrees. Nearly nine out of 10 Americans believe “American tech companies have played a critical role in helping the economy during the pandemic and have made a positive impact on American business, the U.S. job market, small businesses, and the economy.”
As our nation continues to battle this public health crisis, it’s important that our leaders recognize that America’s technology sector supports American businesses of all sizes and ultimately strengthens our economy. As pointed out in a recent bipartisan op-ed from former Senators Saxby Chambliss and Kent Conrad, lawmakers gearing up for their upcoming legislative sessions must understand that “it is critically important that any action in this space be guided by the need to protect, rather than restrict, the tech innovation that is powering prosperity during these unprecedented times – for just as the benefits of America’s tech edge are wide-ranging, so too are the consequences of forfeiting it.”
While our economy works to recover from the effects of the pandemic and America’s mayors look for innovative ways to support their cities’ local economies, we urge them to embrace policies that promote and protect America’s technological edge – Main Street depends on it.
Ann Sullivan is the Executive Director of the Women Veterans Business Coalition – the policy voice for women veteran-owned businesses.