Minnesota’s historically robust economy is built on a strong foundation of entrepreneurial spirit with an eye toward the future of innovation. And, without a doubt, these attributes will play — and have already played — a critical role in building our economy back following the downturn brought forth by the pandemic.
According to a recent Census Bureau survey, roughly 75 percent of Minnesota’s small businesses say that COVID-19 has had a negative impact on their business. And that’s no surprise considering our economy has been shaken in unprecedented ways. Unemployment claims represented 10 percent of all jobs in the state earlier this summer, and the ripple effects of cancellations and closures have farther-reaching consequences than previously forecasted.
However, there is evidence that our state’s economy is on the mend. The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce has released promising data, including job gains in certain sectors and new business filings, showing signs of the beginnings of recovery. If not a full rebound, at this moment, it’s at least fair to call it an adjustment. Indeed, that’s exactly what many industries and businesses have done to meet the changing circumstances of the pandemic and the newfound needs of customers — they’ve adjusted.
Minnesota’s business community has, unsurprisingly, demonstrated grit and a spirit of innovation that has allowed for survival during the pandemic. The adoption of digital business practices — from mobile ordering and curbside pickup at restaurants and expanded online ordering and logistics for small retailers to the ability to meet and work on virtual platforms for teams of all sizes — have kept the wheels of many industries turning. Where an online presence and digital integration may have been “nice-to-haves” a few short months ago, they are now essential lifelines.
A recent study from the Connected Commerce Council found that hundreds of thousands of U.S. businesses have been able to make it through the pandemic thanks to this “Digital Safety Net” of online tools and platforms. In short, digital preparedness in Minnesota’s small business community has made all the difference in weathering this pandemic. Combined with the host of challenges of COVID-19, it would be nearly impossible for small and medium-sized businesses in Minnesota to stay above water without the online tools and platforms they’ve worked into their operating models.
Further, while the economy as a whole has struggled in 2020, digitally-centered businesses and startups have taken off right here in Minnesota. Just this past April, eleven tech startups in the state were awarded innovation grants to continue their growth and the development of new ideas. This included companies working in biotechnology and Artificial Intelligence — two areas that might seem as futuristic now as online shopping and contactless payment seemed a few years ago. It’s hard to say where the next few years will take us, but it’s clear that technology will take us there.
Minnesotans have adapted to their changing circumstances with rare aplomb. Now, we need our policymakers to support their efforts and recognize the importance of a digital safety net with a practical, measured approach. Unfortunately, Senator Amy Klobuchar, in particular, has adopted anti-tech rhetoric that fails to recognize the contributions of digital platforms across our state’s economy. Without these tools, we would have seen more business closures, more Minnesotans out of work, and greater economic loss.
The democratization of digital technology has allowed small businesses to scale up their operations in ways that were previously unthinkable, and it has leveled the playing field for competition across industries. Even before COVID-19, these tools allowed working people to maximize their potential and pursue their dreams — often at little or no cost. We’ve been living in an inter-connected, digital world for years, and the importance of technology has only increased in 2020. It’s past time for our leaders to understand and support that digital progress and encourage further adaptation.
Russ Bennett is president of Bennett Office Technologies Inc., in Willmar.