Stroll through Natchez, the oldest town on the mighty Mississippi River, and you’ll quickly see what makes this town special. Don’t be surprised if you see a famous Hollywood actor who happens to be in Natchez making a movie, but you’re sure to see lots of smiling, hard-working entrepreneurs running their gift shops, restaurants and small hotels, welcoming tourists from all over the world with unparalleled Southern hospitality. You’ll see stately historic homes, bed and breakfasts, and all kinds of shops selling gifts and antiques, fine china, and clothing. These small businesses are an important part of our community. They contribute to giving a local flavor to the City of Natchez.
And it’s not just Natchez. Downtowns in Mississippi and across the country rely on small businesses to attract visitors, showcase their towns and boost their economy. While these small businesses love foot traffic, they also rely on technology tools to reach customers beyond the city in which they reside. From promotion on Facebook and Instagram, to Google AdWords, websites and e-commerce capability and more, these are just a few examples of how technology is helping these businesses expand their customer base.
This has become especially true during the pandemic, when many businesses and organizations have turned to digital tools and online platforms to maintain their businesses when physical visits to their stores were unusually limited. Did you know that over 90% of small business owners in Mississippi have dramatically increased their use of digital tools during the pandemic?
These technological tools are not only vital for our small businesses, but also for our health systems and our schools. Just ask the teachers who had to adapt lesson plans to online teaching for a while or the doctors who now routinely visit patients via telehealth.
Unfortunately, legislation currently before Congress threatens to harm our economy by dismantling the tech companies that provide these vital tools. Recently, a coalition of chambers of commerce sent a letter to Congress opposing the legislation. The letter states, “These bills would hurt consumers by raising prices, fueling inflation, reducing investment and hurting innovation.”
Now, we all know that tech companies have their flaws. Privacy, censorship, and data breaches are all serious issues that Congress needs to address properly, but there’s always a balance in life that tends to be the wisest choice. We already have enough economic struggles in Southwest Mississippi and across the country with wages not keeping up with the cost of housing, food and transportation, so let’s not pull the rug out from under the feet of the millions. of American tech jobs as Congress tries to kill the golden goose.
And it’s not just our economy that’s at risk – it’s threatening our national security. It’s no secret that the US and China are in a high-stakes battle over the global tech sector. The United States has led the world in technological innovation since World War II; however, American leadership in this race is under threat and no longer taken for granted, especially as Chinese companies routinely hack into American technology. We need to decrease our reliability on Chinese products, not increase it.
A new white paper published by the Lexington Institute, in partnership with the American Edge Project (AEP) – The New Arsenal Of Democracy: The US Commercial High-Tech Industry’s Role In Countering The China Threat – warns that anti-innovation legislation is currently being considered by Congress will undermine domestic technological development and jeopardize America’s ability to compete with China in the years and decades to come.
The hopes and dreams of future generations of Americans hang in the balance, even for us in small towns like Natchez.
Congress must be careful and wise. Fortunately, Senators Wicker and Hyde-Smith are not prone to knee-jerk reactions and have long been leaders in promoting sound policies that support our main street economies. As they, and so many Mississippi know, too much Washington almost always hurts American prosperity.
Please join me in urging Congress to support our small businesses and defeat this attack on America’s tech industry. Contact your senator or congressman today. Mississippi deserves better.
Dan Gibson is the 44th Mayor of the Town of Natchez. Learn more at natchez.ms.us.