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Role of technology in economic rebound cannot be overstated, or ignored by political leadership

COVID-19 has impacted millions of lives across Minnesota and the entire nation. And it is no secret that the pandemic has disproportionately affected certain populations — much of rural America, for instance, has been hit particularly hard.

Our COVID-19 cases have been more numerous than urban counterparts, our economy less diversified, and health care is often more difficult nationally to access. As local and policymakers take office this year, I hope that the strain felt in places like the Marshall area serve as a wakeup call — a reminder that residents and businesses need support now more than ever.

Beyond direct relief from the government, that support must also include a realization among lawmakers that the innovation and adaptability taking place in today’s economy, largely enabled by technology, has been critical to sustaining our community through these trying times.

Minnesota’s businesses have always been resilient, but this year pushed us to our limits. Widespread mandates and closures have forced business owners to adapt, and thankfully they have been able to do so.

A significant part of this transformation has been enabled by digital platforms and other technological developments which are more accessible today than ever before. This is why anti-technology rhetoric adopted by some of our very own lawmakers is not only concerning, but counterproductive. The same technology companies and platforms under attack in Washington remain critical partners in the struggles brought by COVID-19–for our economy, businesses, agricultural community, families, students, and more.

COVID-19 has only expedited the inevitable digitization of our economy, and our small business and agricultural communities. Despite a host of commercial restrictions, crippling uncertainty, and significant changes in consumer behavior, many businesses have been able to keep their doors open and staff employed. Without a doubt, technology allowed for the adaptations necessary to make this happen.

In the absence of in-person commerce, local businesses have still been able to reach consumers through online marketplaces and social media, maintaining revenue streams. They can also communicate with employees virtually to maintain operations during stay-at-home orders. And of course, businesses leveraging the tools to maintain a robust online presence have been able to keep customers informed of necessary safety measures and protocols.

And the Marshall area’s agricultural community has also demonstrated considerable resiliency with the help of technology. Maintaining distribution lines, sales, and even crops has required a full-scale embrace of the innovative and technology-driven tools available to today’s farmers.

For local businesses and agricultural industry stakeholders in the Marshall area, technology has been a beacon of hope, leading them through the throes of a global health crisis and keeping them connected with customers and employees. It also helped to minimize added damage to our economy, avoiding additional closures and higher unemployment rates. With consumer habits and many business operations permanently changed, the use of digital technology platforms by businesses is here to stay, and lawmakers should support it.

I hope that in the coming months, Minnesota’s lawmakers will reduce barriers for businesses to invest in digital infrastructure and embrace technological advancements that have minimized economy devastation this past year.

Opposing the technological infrastructure that is driving the digitalization of our economy, our small businesses, and our agricultural sector will only serve to handicap the economic rebound we are all working toward.

— Brad Gruhot is president of the Marshall Area Chamber of Commerce.

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