Senior Vice President, C_TEC, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
April 20, 2023
While the Evergreen State may have a geographically unique topography, its businesses exhibit an appreciation for technology platforms that is becoming rather commonplace throughout the U.S.
As highlighted in the U.S. Chamber’s Technology Engagement Center report, “The Impact of Technology on U.S. Small Business,” 96 percent of Washington small businesses currently use at least one technology platform and 87 percent plan to increase their use of technology in 2-3 years. While in both instances Washington exceeds the national average—93 percent and 83 percent respectively—it is evident that the use and adoption of technology platforms is on the rise for small businesses across the country. 84 percent of businesses in Washington said that technology helped them survive COVID-19.
To see this trend in real-time, the C_TEC team traveled to Tacoma, Washington. In partnership with the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber, we hosted the latest installment in our TecNation series—a nationwide initiative to inform the public and policymakers about the ways technology is changing lives and shaping the future of work and life in America.
The event, which featured remarks and a discussion with Congressman Derek Kilmer (WA-6), a conversation with Washington CIO, Bill Kehoe, and a panel of small businesses from across the region, underscored the importance of technology to both business and government operations and the need for smart policies at all levels of government that enable the continued growth and adoption of these systems.
Understanding Washington’s IT Infrastructure
While not uncommon given the influx of challenges presented at all levels of government during the COVID-19 pandemic, Bill Kehoe acknowledged that Washington could innovative and move fast because they were “forced to do that.” He emphasized the work he is doing to “connect government horizontally instead of vertically” since a horizontal connected government can “present a front door to businesses and residents, and how they engage with government.”
Although there is more work to be done, Kehoe is most proud of the state’s resident portal since it “represents the new wave of how we need to engage our residents,” its GIS program, and its willingness to lean in a lot more on data. He noted that the data is important to residents and access to that open data portal and public data in government can drive economic development.
Breweries, Universities, and Start-ups: Technology’s Diverse Applications
From the outset, they may not have much in common but as the small business panel uncovered, technology—from enterprise systems to social media– help these Tacoma area businesses manage and procure inventory, help drive financial and operational decisions, and enable them to generate both reach and profit of their respective goods or services.
- Implementing delivery technologies to expand reach and drive sales: Matt Lawrence, Founder of Camp Colvos Brewing & Pizza Co., shared that five to seven percent of their monthly sales come from online ordering and delivery platforms, which is a noticeable amount of their total sales.
- Using social media for relationship building and research: For Vimbai Madya, whose business helps women tell stories of their survival from abuse through artisan and crafting work, “being on Facebook and Instagram and getting Facebook ads really helped [her] connect with people who share [her] values and support [her] mission.” She also acknowledged that Instagram is a useful platform to understand current trends and the American fashion market necessary to inform product design and development.
- Connecting students with the resources they need to succeed: Syed Jamal, founder of Collegey, explained that his platform is designed to serve as a professional network for young people to find impact projects, meet mentors, organizations, universities, and peer community to build meaningful partnerships. He also touted the “negotiation power that would not be possible without technology” that is fundamental to Collegey’s outreach and business model, enabling a small business like his to do business with large organizations and make an impact across multiple countries.
Washington in Washington: Representing the Evergreen State in the Nation’s Capital
As technology evolves and with it comes the potential disruption to specific industries, Congressman Kilmer, who represents Washington’s sixth congressional district, acknowledged that his role as a policymaker is to “help people navigate that economic change rather than be victimized by it.” In doing so, he applauded the work of the U.S. Chamber for “empowering employers to create new jobs and provide new opportunities, and empowering workers to navigate that change,” which he credited as essential to driving economic success at the local, state and federal levels.
Congressman Kilmer also emphasized that one doesn’t need to look far to see that technology can be an extraordinary driver of economic opportunity. “Here in Tacoma,” he explained “we have cutting edge medical institutions...industry-leading manufacturers...professional services firms and financial services firms”—all of which generate jobs that require knowledge of science, technology, math or engineering (STEM).
While the Congressman identified several systemic problems across the Federal government, he noted the success of the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and its focus on closing the digital divide, as well as the potential for “the federal government [to] be a partner when it comes to the workforce gap.”
As we continue our TecNation series and visit the people and places that are using technology to drive economic opportunity in their communities, we are reminded of the many successes attributed to these innovations and the work that lies ahead for those just getting started.
Click here to watch the full event.