Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., in 2016. (Kristoffer Tripplaar/Sipa USA/TNS)
Photo: Kris Tripplaar
Photo: Kris Tripplaar

Opinion: Ga.’s digital resilience will pay off now, and in future

National surveys show that nearly one in four small businesses owners say that within two months they may need to close their doors permanently.

With consumers sheltering in place and supply chains hindered by the COVID-19 pandemic, the entrepreneurs who create the majority of all new American jobs are running out of cash to pay their rent and keep their workforce intact until daily life returns to normal.

But, amid this sobering news, the tech sector has seized the moment to show it’s now critical to the continuity of our economy, from providing jobs to keeping employers connected to their workforce and creating new marketing tools for small businesses.

Georgia’s technology sector hasn’t avoided the economic fallout, but it has shown resilience.

At the Technology Association of Georgia (TAG), we’ve seen growth in online commerce, with more and more small business owners turning to digital platforms to stay connected with their customers, staff and communities. We’re also seeing growth in fintech, artificial intelligence, machine learning, telehealth and logistics among our 30,000-plus members across the state.

Technology companies are taking advantage of the Paycheck Protection Program — which suggests they are keeping employees on payroll, while putting fewer workers on unemployment insurance. And technology is helping to keep many parts of our economy on track through innovations that we might never have thought possible.

Likewise, the U.S is ahead of the curve thanks to the leadership of tech titans like Google, Microsoft and Facebook. Their teams have had the resources and reach to rapidly expand the availability of tools like video conferencing to millions of new users in a matter of days. Companies have expanded broadband capacity to meet the need caused by the surge of people working from home as we shelter in place.

In response to the pandemic, these digital leaders are stepping up to the plate in a big way. Facebook made it easier for businesses to host virtual events on Instagram. Zoom and Microsoft deployed free offerings to help businesses stay connected with their employees and customers. Google launched a remote work resource center, and other resources for small and medium businesses affected by COVID-19. We’re seeing digital storefronts open for mom and pop shops that may have never considered online commerce as a serious growth strategy.

As a result, we’ve condensed a decade of progress into the span of weeks. And Georgia is in the vanguard of the new digital economy. Google alone has more than 350 employees in Georgia with offices in Atlanta and Austell, and a data center in Douglas County. The company is also opening offices in Midtown that will accelerate our state’s job growth in the tech field.

TAG is working with local technology companies big and small to help the state of Georgia develop apps that will connect Georgians to services they need, from food to mental health services and many others. And tech companies around the country are partnering together in a race to find solutions that will help contain the spread of COVID-19.

The technology sector is proving that, in tough times, it’s now crucial to the operation of our society at large while also providing steady employment to individuals with the right skill set.

In the short-term, the industry certainly won’t create jobs at the high rate it did as recently as a few months ago. We can expect a decline in the venture capital that fuels the startups we rely on for the brilliant breakthroughs of the future. Even large, publicly traded companies will face payroll pressures amid lower revenues. In the meantime, at TAG, we’re connecting employers and job seekers to ensure that the pipeline of rewarding, high-paying jobs in Georgia’s tech sector remains strong.

In the long-term, demand for these job skills will likely rebound quicker and grow more strongly than in other industries. We know public resources will get squeezed during this recession, but continued investment in developing this workforce will pay dividends now and in the distant future.

The hard work, investment and innovation that we’ve poured into technology is paying off for us today as we telework from home, stream entertainment and provide digital tools helping small businesses connect with customers. Let’s build on that, even as we work together to find solutions to defeat this pandemic.

Larry K. Williams is the president and CEO of the Technology Association of Georgia.

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