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Jean Evans: Missouri should lean on tech to drive our economic comeback

Jean Evans: Missouri should lean on tech to drive our economic comeback

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Over the last year, the coronavirus has disrupted every aspect of daily life, but as a resilient and innovative nation, we adapted, turning to technology to stay connected and productive.

In an age of social distancing, digital tools have enabled collaboration among co-workers and connectivity with families and friends, who may be hundreds of miles away or just down the road. And for small businesses, technology platforms have been nothing short of a lifeline, providing a necessary pathway to navigate through a maze of uncertainty.

The pandemic’s toll has been devastating to our state’s overall economy, with a particularly severe impact on small businesses. Prior to the pandemic, small businesses in the Show-Me State employed 1.2 million people, accounting for nearly half of the state’s workforce, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.

By May 2020, unemployment across Missouri reached more than 10%. According to a report from the News Tribune in Jefferson City, the coronavirus erased 20 years of job growth in Missouri. State data from October also found that Missouri’s workforce declined by approximately 160,000 within six months, bringing the state’s workforce count to its lowest since October 2000.

To navigate this economic hardship, small businesses turned from using digital tools as an innovative way to reach new consumers to relying on technology as one of the only methods of operating amid a near-global shutdown.

Without the benefits of modern-day technological innovation, these grim statistics could have been much worse.

Technology platforms helped ease operational and financial stresses, letting small businesses continue to market products, adapt their service offerings, and communicate with customers. Importantly, technology provided many businesses with the opportunity to maintain as much of their workforce as possible; without it, businesses would have most certainly faced additional layoffs and closures.

Moreover, technological innovation didn’t just empower small businesses during the pandemic; the tech industry is taking root here in Missouri and helping to grow our local economy and create the jobs of tomorrow. A 2019 study undertaken by the Missouri Chamber of Commerce found that Missouri is on track to become among the most rapidly growing states for technology. According to the report, Missouri falls within the top 10 states for anticipated technology expansion, with its technology workforce projected to increase by nearly 10% from 2018 to 2023.

As recently as February, more than 13,000 new information technology jobs were added to the economy. And in January, U.S. technology employers added nearly 20,000 new positions.

A major contributor to the state’s economy, Missouri’s technology sales revenue reached nearly $42 billion in 2017 — close to 8% of all sales in the state. And from 2012 to 2017, information technology jobs in Missouri grew by approximately 16.8%.

St. Louis and Kansas City, two of the largest cities in the state, are helping to drive this growth — serving as the headquarters for companies like World Wide Technology and Cerner Corp., in addition to a range of innovative startups bringing new talent and jobs to the region.

The pandemic has made one thing clear: Tech innovation is something more of us should embrace. As we begin to enter recovery, from small businesses to Show-Me startups, technology will play a critical role in reviving the businesses that power Missouri’s vibrant economy.

Missouri’s lawmakers must look to smart policy solutions that help, not hinder, technological innovation. Promoting policies that unleash innovation will be vital to Missouri’s long-term economic prosperity and will help to solidify our reputation as a leader in technological innovation.

Jean Evans is the former executive director of the Missouri Republican Party and a former member of the Missouri House of Representatives.

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