Operating a small business during the pandemic is undoubtedly difficult but technology is helping companies stay afloat and thrive by adopting new business models. Take, for example, Reef Technology which is helping restaurants build Neighborhood kitchens in places like unused parking lots that help restaurants meet increased demand for delivery and connect them when gig economy companies serve their guests.
The number of small businesses over the last two years that have embraced online tools to connect with customers, market their products, and conduct operations skyrocketed. Tools like social media, delivery services, e-commerce platforms, digital payment systems, and more, have been a lifeline for businesses facing uncertainty, lockdowns, and shifting safety protocols. Although circumstances have improved since the height of the pandemic, many small businesses (67.5%) are still struggling and some (27%) are at risk of failing without the right support from policymakers.
These are four tech policies Congress should pursue to help small businesses thrive:
- Connectivity is foundational to any online business but particularly important during the pandemic and for those in places with low or no broadband internet service. In pre-pandemic a survey, 66% of rural small businesses say poor internet or cell phone connectivity negatively impacts their business. Connectivity is now even more important.
What policymakers should do: Work with industry to deploy secure connectivity like fiber and 5G throughout the country to enable businesses to utilize the digital tools that have been and will continue to be critical to their operations. Read more.
- Data privacy is important to protect consumers, but a patchwork of different state laws will place an undue burden on small businesses to comply with potentially conflicting guidance, on top of pandemic recovery. For example, regulations from the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), are estimated to cost up to $55 billion in compliance costs for California companies, with small businesses employing 20 or fewer employees projected to bear costs up to $50,000.
What policymakers should do: Pass national privacy legislation that provides businesses clarity to comply and deliver the best products and services, and protects American consumers equally no matter which state they live in. Read more.
- A flexible workforce will address the major labor shortage plaguing small businesses. According to a new poll, almost half with 5-19 employees are struggling to find enough candidates to fill open positions, with many unable to find candidates with the needed experience or the right skills. The shortage is disrupting workflow and adding stress to already-beleaguered businesses.
What policymakers should do: Embrace innovative and flexible work structures to power the gig economy; modernize immigration laws to attract global talent, and partner with the private sector to upskill America’s workforce to fill the workforce gap. Read more.
- Artificial intelligence (AI) has been a gamechanger for businesses of all sizes, but particularly useful for small businesses to manage and improve products, automate services, be proactive with customer data, and a slew of other operations. As business continues to digitize, AI and machine learning will be crucial tools for small businesses to succeed.
What policymakers should do: Build trust in AI by investing in fundamental research and development in AI to mitigate the risks and accelerate its benefits to consumers and businesses. Read more.
Conclusion: Small businesses are the backbone of our economy. Not only do they make up more than 99% of businesses and employ nearly half of all American workers, they also represent the entrepreneurial spirit of the American dream and can rejuvenate and elevate the communities around them. The pandemic accelerated an already growing trend – businesses taking their operations online to serve their customers and grow. Now, when small businesses rely so heavily on digital tools to stay afloat, policymakers must invest in policies that help them go from surviving to thriving.