Op-Ed: Christopher K. Peace column: protecting Virginia’s internet-related jobs

Together, the people of our nation and this commonwealth have successfully navigated a pandemic amid great domestic social change, and now we peer into another great global crisis that has the possibility of negatively impacting our economy.

From continued supply chain disruptions that emerged during COVID to the human catastrophe unfolding in Ukraine, our economic outlook is not as clear today as it was a few months ago, when we planned for a “return to normal.

In his recent State of the Union address, President Joe Biden noted we’ve seen historically high levels of new business applications, and he pledged to help those small businesses grow and create jobs. I would hope that is true but just hours before he made that commitment, the U.S. Congress heard a proposal that would make it harder for small businesses.

In its current form, House Resolution 6416, the Banning Surveillance Advertising Act of 2022, would stifle the market-making growth we’ve seen arise from internet-based commerce. This bill would make it harder and more expensive for small businesses to use online advertising to connect with their customers and grow their businesses. The internet is so vital to doing business in today’s world, so it’s unfortunate Congress didn’t invite a single small-business owner to testify at the hearing and share their perspectives.

According to a 2020 study, Virginia is home to nearly 302,000 internet-related jobs. The study, commissioned by the Interactive Advertising Bureau, shows tremendous growth in internet jobs. In just under a decade, Virginia’s growth in internet jobs has increased by 329% — from 70,000 in 2012 to 301,900 in 2020.

Internet jobs also contribute a total of $106.6 billion to the state’s gross domestic product, translating into positive economic effects well beyond direct employment. Clearly, our state has a lot at stake when politicians start talking about changing and regulating the way online business is conducted.

Entrepreneurs and small-business owners across Virginia have benefited from online ads and social media platforms. In fact, during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ability to reach customers online was one of the only ways to remain afloat, and to keep customers up to date on operating hours, new services and other real-time changes taking place as we all tried to sort out this new way of doing business.

Small businesses are the backbone of our economy. We cannot cut off their primary means of effectively finding customers and expect them to survive the current economic conditions.

As Congress continues to hold hearings and consider legislation on how best to protect consumer privacy, it’s important members understand how businesses of every size use not only online advertising, but hundreds of other internet-related services — payment systems, websites, e-mails, social media — to grow their businesses and create jobs.

Nine of our state’s 11 congressional districts have at least 10,000 internet-dependent jobs, and four of those have at least 20,000 internet jobs. Focusing on the future means protecting the digital ecosystem that is contributing to this tremendous growth and opportunity.