PETER REICHARD: As we rebuild in the new year, digitally enabled companies will rise

Posted January 28, 2021 5:00 a.m. EST

Connected digital

EDITOR'S NOTE: Peter Reichard is a business investor and former president of the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce.

North Carolina’s economy was humming prior to the onset of the pandemic, growing at a remarkable pace. In fact, 2019 marked the 10th consecutive year of record growth since the Great Recession, our longest annual streak of growth in over 150 years.

As new lawmakers take up their posts and families, communities, and businesses prepare for the year ahead, returning to this period of economic expansion will undoubtedly be top of mind. And an embrace of technological progress and innovation is imperative. After all, it was this progress that has sustained us through the economic challenges of this past year.

Lessons learned during the pandemic, coupled with a reflection on past economic success, should provide our political leadership with the tools they need to lead an effective recovery. Our previous era of growth, for example, insulated key industries and provided opportunity for numerous businesses to weather the pandemic storm with the help of digital technologies – keeping the lights on, maintaining employment levels as much as possible, and continuing to invest in communities.

And now that we have moved past this election cycle and embrace the opportunities of a new year, now is the time for our leaders in Raleigh and in Washington work to ensure the resiliency of our economy, so businesses that have laid off employees, been forced to contract or mothball operations, or restrict additional investments can rebound as quickly as possible.

As the former president of the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce and now an investor in businesses across our state, I am pleased to learn that so many leaders in key industries have adequately and quickly adapted to this crisis, and in doing so, they are ensuring the health of our state’s economic recovery.

A key enabler of that capacity to swiftly meet this challenge is undoubtedly the digitization of our workforce and economy. Thankfully, our state has been at the forefront in this innovation cycle, driving technological change and positioning our state, its employers, and our workforce members to take on challenges and reinvent products and services.

Notably, it has led to the adoption of digital backstops for companies – from curbside delivery and pick up for our restaurants to business continuity planning for larger enterprises to perform essential services remotely. These pivots are actively keeping our economy above water as we begin the process of reopening the state.

In short, hundreds of thousands of U.S. businesses have relied on the “Digital Safety Net” to persevere through the crisis, according to a study by the Connected Commerce Council (3C).

Throughout these last several months as our state experienced closures and restrictions resulting from COVID-19, small and medium-sized businesses, in particular, looked to digital tools to overcome business challenges, as varied as identifying new customers to maintaining connections with employees and loyal client accounts. The 3C study also revealed that a majority of small businesses conveyed how digital tools were helpful during COVID-19.

What we are learning throughout this process is that digitally prepared companies are maximizing the opportunities of this moment, stepping into new markets, overcoming short-term challenges associated with COVID-19, and leading our state’s rebound, anticipating better revenue outcomes as we enter new phases of reopening.

But we cannot do it alone. Policymakers in our state and in Congress – including those entering office for the first time this month – must continue the hard work to maintain critical supports for our business community, so our state remains an appealing place to do business, during and after this pandemic.

As well, our nation’s leading technology platforms must be encouraged by these same policymakers to continue to provide the tools and services, often at no cost, to ensure that companies of all sizes can perform the digital transition that can guarantee resiliency during this time.

I would urge policymakers, including those newly elected, to avoid erecting policy and regulatory roadblocks in the way of the leading tech firms that are assisting our state’s employers and small business owners in their efforts to remain open and operating in the safest and most responsible manner.

The economic growth we had been accustomed to prior to the pandemic, that we so desperately hope can return, depends on it. In the meantime, we can all learn from the digitally prepared and resilient companies in our communities for the path forward.

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