Recently, I participated in a virtual forum with business and technology leaders from Kentucky to discuss the importance of digital connectivity for small businesses and communities amid COVID-19 and beyond. The online event – “How Technology is Fueling Kentucky’s Recovery & Growing the Economy” – was hosted by Jake Ward, chairman of the Connected Commerce Council, a non-profit organization representing digitally empowered small businesses nationwide.
During the discussion, I highlighted how Kentucky’s tech sector is growing like never before and contributing to the overall economic progress of the Bluegrass State. I have also noted that given the significant challenges of the pandemic, our resilient small businesses are relying more than ever on the “digital safety net”. Kentucky is open for business and technology keeps us open.
I was joined on the webcast by innovative business leaders from across the Commonwealth – Jenna Ahern of Guardian Owl Digital in Louisville, Payton May of Bit Source in Pikeville, and Joshua Ravenscraft of New Frontier Outfitters in Morehead. It was inspiring to hear their stories of not only surviving, but also thriving, in the midst of COVID-19 – thanks to the General Assembly’s long-term focus on pro-business policies, access to affordable online tools and platforms, and an indomitable entrepreneurial spirit.
Joshua Ravenscraft explained how he and his brother, Jared, founded the first Appalachian outerwear brand in their parents’ kitchen in Morehead in 2006. Just five years later, they developed New Frontier Outfitters to include over two dozen wholesale stores across Kentucky, Colorado. and North Carolina, as well as a large international online customer base, from Canada to the Netherlands.
“We come from a very small town here in Morehead, so connectivity is really important to us,” he noted. “We have to have it to stay alive.”
And their experience has been confirmed nationwide. A Connected Commerce Council report earlier this year found that, compared to “digitally uncertain” businesses, “digitally advanced” businesses were 20 times better at acquiring new customers and 50% better in terms of overall revenue in the world. middle of COVID-19. Tragically, this study also found that more than 1.5 million “digitally uncertain” US businesses likely shut down during the pandemic.
Kentucky trade policy experts Josh Crawford from the Pegasus Institute, Colby Hall from Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) and Shelby Williams Somervell from Greater Louisville Inc. also participated in our recent webcast, sharing their views on preserving access for small businesses to affordable online tools. and platforms.
“The vertically integrated digital economy enables lower bottom line costs and greater convenience for end consumers,” Somervell said. “If that changes, I think you’re going to see the cost and convenience of many goods and services that consumers now take for granted drastically degraded.”
I share these concerns. The unintended consequences of cumbersome federal legislation aimed at limiting technology will do far more harm than good and lower costs for businesses and communities. Generally, government does best when it interferes the least. Sometimes the government just needs to back down instead of over-regulating these tech companies.
Believe me, if they start regulating big, successful tech companies, then they’ll start thinking about regulating medium and small businesses. We can’t let the camel’s nose go into the tent on this. We need to remove artificial barriers to free enterprise, not add to them.
Hearing success stories of how tech tools are empowering Kentucky businesses – in both urban and rural communities – once again underscored how important digital connectivity is to supporting the Commonwealth economy. Our economy is more innovative and connected than ever, and we must not create new barriers that could stifle our progress.
In Kentucky, digital connectivity powers our economic engine and will continue to do so in the future. As the General Assembly accelerates the expansion of high-speed broadband access statewide, we must continue to foster an environment that enables small businesses to use affordable digital tools, without targeting businesses. the same people who have brought innovation, success and resilience to our state’s economy and communities. .
Damon Thayer, of Georgetown, is the Senate Majority Leader in the Kentucky General Assembly. Representing Scott, Grant and Kenton counties since 2003, he currently serves on several influential committees including State & Local Government, Licensing & Occupations and Agriculture.