By Josh Crawford
Josh Crawford, J.D. is the executive director of Pegasus Institute whose mission is to provide public policy research and solutions that help improve the lives of all Kentuckians.
In his 1958 essay I, Pencil, Leonard Reed described the life of a humble #2 pencil. Reed’s chief insight was to point out that no one person could make even a lowly pencil. At the time, the wood for the pencil would have come from Washington state, the graphite center would have come from mines in South America, and the rubber eraser likely came from Indonesia. Thousands of people cooperated to get to the point at which you could hold a pencil in your hand and write with it.
Today’s economy is no less complex and interconnected. And this isn’t only true of the production of goods. Small businesses here in Kentucky and across the country rely on large tech companies for web hosting, payment processing and the delivery of goods to consumers. Some of the best restaurants and shops in small towns in our Commonwealth have a Facebook page as their sole internet presence. But even for these businesses, their internet presence and customer bases are growing.
Commerce today lives in the digital marketplace. The last 20 years has seen the digital economy grow nearly four times the rate of overall GDP. Every day, Kentuckians of all ages are connecting with favorite small businesses online. They’re ordering coffee on a mobile app or checking out a mom-and-pop shop’s social media for the latest deals. You may very well be reading this column as the result of an online search for your community’s newspaper. Our policies should foster this diverse, accessible and interconnected commerce instead of punishing its success.
When you hear about technology companies, your mind may quickly drift to Silicon Valley or Austin, TX, but they don’t have a monopoly on tech. Kentucky is home to its own growing technology sector—both in urban and rural communities. These companies are supporting entrepreneurs and fueling innovators. Their work is vital to industries from agricultural production to educational opportunity.
The Commonwealth’s tech industry has already created nearly 100,000 good-paying jobs. These companies contribute about $8 billion to our economy. That’s a lot, and it’s not going to decrease any time soon. Following the struggles and setbacks caused by COVID, almost half of Kentucky small businesses reported they are more likely to develop new digital tools for the customers to enjoy.
What could slow this growth though? Anti-competitive measures currently floating around Congress that will hamper innovation and put Kentucky entrepreneurs at a serious disadvantage. Instead, policymakers should take steps to foster an environment in which the growing tech marketplace will benefit consumers and small business owners alike.
Unfortunately, an overzealous regulatory regime will slow down growth and drive good jobs elsewhere. This is something small businesses already understand. A new survey from the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council found 59% of small business owners said Congress’ policies are hurting the economy and their enterprises.
The path forward is clear. Let the American free enterprise system—the greatest in the history of the world—continue promoting the ingenuity of invention. It drives jobs creation and economic growth right here in Kentucky and provides financial security and prosperity to families who call the Commonwealth home. Don’t let Washington dictate which Kentucky small businesses can use social media to connect with their customers and which can’t.