Surging Covid infections and cuts in consumer spending represent just some of the challenges faced by businesses across Arizona. The $2 million that Gov. Doug Ducey recently pledged to restaurants is a welcome investment in our local communities, but businesses will need more to get to the finish line and survive the widespread effects of this virus.
Thankfully, the new year and new political leadership in Arizona present opportunities to embrace the industry that has kept businesses connected during the pandemic: technology. Over the past 10 months, digital platforms have been the backbone of local businesses, and they will continue to be important as we begin the long road to recovery. As this new political leadership, including Sen. Mark Kelly, chart the path ahead, a moderate position surrounding technology issues is critical, as is recognition of the support that digital platforms have provided – and will continue to provide – our communities.
Over the past few decades, small businesses have gradually integrated more technology into their operations. But in the last year, digital infrastructure became more crucial than ever. When offices, restaurants and all non-essential stores were forced to close, the only way many businesses could continue was online. Firms started communicating with employees virtually, restaurants began taking orders through their websites, and retailers turned to digital marketplaces to maintain sales. Businesses have adjusted with the help of technology, giving them a fighting chance during the pandemic.
Still, Main Streets across Arizona look very different than they did one year ago. Most every company has suffered financial losses, with thousands permanently shuttering their doors. But the truth is, we would be saying goodbye to countless more businesses if technology did not provide the digital resiliency necessary to stay afloat.
It is no secret that our economy needs rebuilding and local businesses need support. The road to recovery is long, and we will need all the proper tools in the shed. However, a growing anti-tech sentiment among some lawmakers, including those who claim to be pro-small business, has permeated political leadership at the state and national levels. Not only do these positions threaten economic growth, but they fail to recognize the value of technology in rebuilding our communities.
Arizona’s position as a growing tech ecosystem is at stake. Beyond the support that larger technology companies provide for small businesses at the local level, Arizona is home to almost 10,000 tech companies, employing over 200,000 people and generating billions of dollars in wages. We are also a growing hub for entrepreneurship, with thousands of startups locating operations here. These are critical realities for new and returning lawmakers to consider as they develop positions on technology issues and, of course, look to support our economic recovery.
As Arizona continues to combat the pandemic, we need to properly equip our communities with the tools they need to survive. Among these is technology. Lawmakers must remember that tech has saved small businesses, contributed millions of dollars in economic development, and put food on the table for thousands of residents. We must welcome technology as a valued partner in our recovery and recognize the value it brings to our communities.
Steven G. Zylstra is president and CEO of the Arizona Technology Council.