Alessi: NY should protect its internet-dependent jobs

Many challenges of the last few years — most pandemic-related — appear to be receding, but new issues are taking their place. High gas prices, ongoing supply chain disruptions, and inflation are replacing mask mandates and vaccination status as top concerns for New York small businesses.

Companies pushed to the brink during the pandemic are not seeing any relief; their problems have simply shifted. Policymakers must keep this in mind and do what they can to mitigate these stressors. In his State of the Union address, President Biden acknowledged the vast contributions small businesses make to the economy, noting the historically high level of new business applications, and he pledged to do more to help these businesses grow and create jobs.

Yet, on the same day in the same city, Congress considered legislation that will ultimately hurt the ability of small businesses to grow. At a committee hearing, lawmakers introduced the Banning Surveillance Advertising Act of 2022. As introduced, this bill will make online advertising harder to use and more expensive for small businesses. Given the extent to which the internet is vital to conducting business, it’s surprisingly short-sighted that Congress did not think to include any small business owners to testify at the hearing.

Listening to the perspectives of small businesses, particularly about how they use the internet to build and maintain their companies, is important because small businesses are the backbone of our economy. 38% of US internet jobs are created by small firms and self-employed individuals — a larger proportion than large or medium-sized firms, which clock in at 34% and 28% respectively. When we talk to small businesses about how they use the internet, their needs are extensive and go beyond sending emails. They use internet-enabled tools to advertise, create websites, enable payment systems and connect with customers on social media.

As executive director of the Business Incubator Association of New York State, we represent over 100 business incubators and accelerators that house and mentor over 3,000 startup companies – many of whom depend on targeted digital marketing to grow their businesses. The pandemic slowed down the growth and launch of many startups, and small businesses pivoted to digital advertising to survive. The start-ups who were able to succeed did so because the internet enabled them to grow, and digital online advertising via both the web and social media was a critical element.

We can see the economic impact here in New York State. Internet-related jobs contributed $ 152.4 billion to this state’s GDP in 2020. Although many of New York’s internet-related jobs are located in New York City, they certainly aren’t confined to the city — the impact stretches throughout New York State. Every congressional district in the state has internet-dependent jobs, and 15 of them have at least 10,000. In three of them, internet jobs employ at least 6% of the district’s population.

So, when Congressional leaders are considering legislation that will inhibit job growth, we are talking about real numbers that could have a negative impact on New York’s economy. This is why I decided to join a new small business coalition called Internet for Growth, to help educate policymakers on how businesses of every size rely on the internet. As Congress considers legislation on how best to protect consumer privacy, it’s important that lawmakers understand how these decisions will impact small businesses, startups and business incubators and accelerators.

Businesses that have survived the pandemic and are currently battling inflation, supply chain problems, and high gas prices do not need the additional burden of regulatory changes that make it harder for them to do business.

Marc Alessi is the executive director of the Business Incubator Association of New York.

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