Nov 13, 2019 - 2:30pm

Bridging the Digital Divide for Small Businesses


Chief Executive Officer, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

From an economic standpoint, we’ve yet to unlock the full potential of America’s small business sector. But we know just where to start – using technology to boost exports.

To help realize the commercial promise of growth-minded companies across the country, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – in partnership with Google – published a report detailing the impact of technology on small business exports. The report outlines strategies that will help small businesses harness digital tools to optimize their operations and reach new levels of success.  

Based on a survey of more than 3,800 nonfarm small businesses, our study examines the economic contributions of small business exporters, obstacles they face in selling their products overseas, and the role technology can play in expanding their commercial reach. Here’s what we found:

Small business exports produce big results for our economy, generating $541 billion in output annually and supporting more than 6 million jobs. But only 9% of small businesses currently sell their goods or services abroad. Just imagine how much stronger and more resilient our economy would be if the other 91% knew how to access and leverage new technologies to do business beyond our borders.

The fact that most small businesses do not export means there is tremendous opportunity for growth. To achieve such growth, both the private and public sectors must work together to help small businesses overcome their most common barriers to trade, including foreign regulations, tariffs and customs procedures, and payment collection. By removing these obstacles, we can add nearly 900,000 jobs to the U.S. economy.

But tearing down regulatory barriers to trade is only half the battle; the other half is equipping small businesses with the digital tools they need to succeed in a global economy. Our report finds that most small business owners have limited familiarity with these tools. In fact, 73% say they are unfamiliar with basic technologies that are essential to accessing foreign markets, including digital translation services, cross-border electronic payments, website localization, and other cutting-edge resources.

By taking aggressive steps to improve small businesses’ awareness of export-enabling technologies, industry leaders and policymakers can help ensure that America’s entrepreneurs are in the best position to expand their customer base to other countries. Also, by developing data-driven strategies to understand and overcome exporting barriers, we can give small businesses a leg up on the international competition.

Small businesses are the backbone of American industry. And with an assist from digital technology, they can continue to power economic growth.

About the Author

About the Author

Thomas J. Donohue
Chief Executive Officer, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Thomas J. Donohue is chief executive officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.