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Since March 2020, COVID-19 has profoundly shaped how we work, learn and communicate with each other. To stay connected in this socially distanced society, many of us have relied on technology platforms.

Digital platforms have enabled us to connect with one another regardless of geographic barriers. Amid a global shutdown, innovative technology platforms have kept us connected to our friends and loved ones, and have made working remotely easier than ever before.

Digital tools have also played an undeniable role in supporting small businesses in Missouri and across the country. In the midst of near- economic collapse, digital platforms have served as critical lifelines to help keep small businesses afloat. Employers across the United States have turned to online advertising and social media platforms to break through the noise and reach new and existing consumers. And even prior to the pandemic, an estimated 84 percent of small businesses reported utilizing one or more digital platforms to engage with consumers, while more than 70 percent utilized these tools for sales.

The effects of COVID-19 on our nation's economy have been catastrophic. In 2020, the economy shrunk by roughly 3.5 percent — the biggest drop seen in 74 years. And in October 2020, the Department of Labor claimed about 21.5 million individuals were claiming unemployment insurance benefits.

In Missouri, at the height of pandemic job losses, total unemployment climbed to 10.1 percent — more than three times the rate in May 2019. And in January 2021, the state's workforce had approximately 25,000 fewer workers than in December 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The negative impact of COVID-19 has been felt by nearly every industry, including manufacturing. Manufacturing is the heartbeat of the American economy. Here in the Show-Me State, manufacturing accounts for nearly one-tenth of our state's workforce and employs roughly 277,000 Missourians. Our manufacturers have kept supply chains running throughout the pandemic and produce countless goods that we rely on every single day.

Missouri's small businesses have also been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. In 2019, the state's small businesses were experiencing significant growth — creating nearly 14,000 jobs. Unfortunately, the pandemic has resulted in some of Missouri's small businesses shutting down for good.

As the head of Missouri's oldest general business association, I've heard from countless employers across the state who, over the last year, have faced unprecedented challenges as a result of the pandemic. We've worked tirelessly to provide resources and information to help navigate the "new normal" we are all facing.

While the state's economy has been hit hard by COVID-19, technology platforms have helped many businesses in Missouri survive. Continued technological innovation will only bring us closer to achieving economic recovery, particularly as Missouri increasingly establishes its role as a leader in the technology sector.

And for those who are unaware, Missouri is making waves in the technology industry. The Show-Me State is home to nearly 212,000 tech workers and 9,300 tech businesses, according to a study by CompTIA. The same study found "at an estimated $21.7 billion, the tech sector accounts for 7.4 percent of the state's economy."

It will take time for Missouri to fully recover from the effects of COVID-19, but technology will aid us in our journey. As Missouri continues to grapple with the lingering economic effects, embracing the benefits of technological innovation will bring us closer to recovery — creating jobs and bringing a renewed sense of hope to our region.

As we look to the future, state and federal lawmakers should carefully consider the vital role technological innovation will play in Missouri's economic recovery and growth in the years to come. Our leaders must prioritize policies that promote technology to help elevate Missouri as a driver of innovation and economic growth.

Ray McCarty is the president and CEO of the Associated Industries of Missouri.

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