Small Businesses Need Digital Support, Not More Bureaucracy
It is well-known that Massachusetts is home to some of the most innovative technology firms in the country. Our state’s pro-innovation, pro-entrepreneur environment has been carefully crafted and protected through public policy, enviable access to private investment, and arguably the strongest tech talent pipeline in the country. Though proposals for stricter oversight of technology firms are gaining steam globally, lawmakers in Massachusetts, including Governor Baker, have long recognized the value of the technology sector and its impact on the state’s economic maturation of recent years.
Thanks in large part to the rising prominence of the MA technology sector, the state’s wage and salary annual growth in recent years has outpaced the national average, and our per capita gross domestic product is the highest of any state in the U.S. Our state is home to over 600,000 small businesses, which employ 1.5 million people. One point often left out of the discussion about how to bolster the tech industry and the economy, for that matter, is how much small businesses now rely on technology and digital tools to grow, hire, and contribute to that impressive statewide growth.
My small business in Wakefield, Furever Linked, isn’t that far from the Kendall Square innovation district, but in many ways, it is a world away from the technology-driven ecosystem of the state. We design and sell physical accessories for pet-owners: things like pendants, charm bracelets, and keyrings featuring customers’ pet photos. We’re a traditional small business through and through, but we would not be where we are without technology products that allow us to easily customize our products for each consumer, reach more customers through targeted advertising, securely manage our online store through Shopify, and easily build a website and Facebook page to educate potential customers about our offerings. Technology companies have made being an entrepreneur easier. It is significantly easier to manage my business thanks to the magic of digital platforms that simplify website and app development, product design and manufacturing, marketing and sales, invoicing and accounting, and even pricing.
Mass customization businesses like mine cannot succeed at scale without utilizing large data sets and data analytics that power effective digital advertising and intuitive platforms for customers to build custom products. We’re not building a complicated algorithm or hammering out lines of code from our little office in Wakefield, but we absolutely rely directly on technology to succeed as a business. As a small business operator, I’m far from being an outlier in that regard. According to a Deloitte study, 84 percent of U.S. small businesses are using at least one major digital platform to provide information to customers. According to that same study, small businesses using digital tools earn twice as much revenue and are three times as likely to be creating jobs. Small businesses cannot afford to lose out on the use of these tools and neither can Massachusetts.
While leaders in Massachusetts have been proud champions of technology for the most part, there has been a movement nationally and in many states to dramatically increase regulation of technology platforms. California—often seen as a bellwether for states like Massachusetts in terms of policy—passed a data privacy rule this summer similar to Europe’s GDPR. It’s only a matter of time before Massachusetts takes up the issue more aggressively too. California’s law has already faced swift backlash from businesses including retailers who are concerned what it will do to their customer loyalty programs, how it will harm small businesses’ ability to deploy personal marketing campaigns, what it means for location-based services, and much more.
I’m here to tell Governor Baker, the leaders on Beacon Hill, and our representatives in Washington that any substantial changes to the way technology is policed must take into consideration the value that technology has for small business and entrepreneurs in the state, so that they’re protected and cared for when it comes to access to digital platforms. Restricting access to those digital tools and platforms could be devastating to the small business heartbeat of Massachusetts.
I urge policymakers to consider the harm done to small businesses if access to digital tools is meaningfully disrupted. Policies that do not consider how small businesses value these technology platforms would seriously harm small businesses like mine, which I cannot accept.
As entrepreneurs use these platforms and grow our businesses, we do not want to worry about Washington and Beacon Hill politicians digging potholes and building barricades on the path to success. But I do worry every time I hear a politician attacking “Big Tech,” digital platforms, artificial intelligence, data science and the companies that are a core part of my business. Fortunately, Governor Baker and Beacon Hill know that Massachusetts led the enterprise digital revolution for decades, and they ensure that the same pro-innovation spirit that supported DEC, EMC, and Akamai now supports dozens of incubators, thousands of laboratories, and myriad startups.
If regulation makes digital business tools no longer available, too expensive, or inhibits the next generation of innovation, my business and many more small businesses could be hurt and our entrepreneurial economy undermined. I’m sure that Governor Baker and Senators Warren and Markey don’t want that to happen.