Editor: Like every other state in the country, the pandemic affected all sectors of the Virginia economy. Across the state, nearly 700,000 workers filed for unemployment, eliminating the gains of 500,000 jobs since the Great Recession. Unemployment nearly doubled from its pre-pandemic January 2020 rate of 3.4%.
Across the state, the pandemic forced us to change our lives and adapt to new norms. As social distancing and statewide closures took hold, basic daily functions we took for granted, like working in an office setting, in-person dining, hugging friends and family, and in-store shopping, ground to a halt. The shift was devastating for our state’s businesses, particularly our small businesses.
Small businesses are the drivers of Virginia’s economy. Across the state, they make up99.5% of all businesses, employ 1.6 million workers—nearly 50% of the state’s total workforce—and drive economic growth, creating nearly 40,000 jobs in 2019. Our small businesses’ success is Virginia’s success.
Amid the pandemic safety precautions that changed the way Main Street storefronts operated, technology played a key role, serving as a lifeline for the thousands of small businesses that transitioned to operate in a virtual world—many of them for the first time.
For the small businesses that remained afloat during the pandemic, technology played a key role. In some instances, embracing new technology helped grow their businesses. Across the state, small businesses deployed technology to sell their products, often marketing them in new and unique ways; adapted their service offerings, whether it be offering curbside pickup, same-day delivery service, or the like; and communicated with customers in a contact-free way.
The Clay and Metal Loft is a Leesburg arts business. We relied 100% on social media platforms to stay afloat during Covid shut down and beyond. We used Facebook private groups to telecast classes, Youtube to provide summer camps, and Instagram and Facebook to conduct live sales and studio tours. We sold our products with curbside pick up and drop off all using social media and technology platforms.
AConnected Chamber Council studyfrom late 2020 found that during the year, nearly a third of small business owners would have been forced to close all or part of their businesses without the aid of technology. We can vouch for this fact personally.
Virginia is already a burgeoning tech hub, with Microsoft, Amazon, Google, and Facebook all adding locations in Northern Virginia. Not to mention the8,700 other technology establishments present in Fairfax County alone and the expectation of tens of thousands of new information technology jobs in the coming years. It is this tech hub that has played a role in keeping the state’s employment numbers in a slightly better position than other states. The industry and its highly stable jobs, at a time in which the entire world was moving to a largely virtual environment, helped the state stave off even worse economic effects from the pandemic.
Small businesses will continue to rely on technological innovation to operate throughout the pandemic and as it looks toward economic recovery. As a state, we cannot afford to go backward. With the small businesses that power our state, we have only begun to unlock the full potential that technological innovation can play in economic recovery and growth. Virginia’s policymakers have the unique opportunity to continue to put technological innovation at the forefront of our economic recovery and maintain our competitive edge.