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Op-Ed: Cal policymakers should plug more into power of our state’s tech firms

By Hon. Cheryl Brown | Publisher Emerita, Black Voice News

Uncertainty has defined life in California this past year.

Together, we have struggled through a deadly pandemic, a record-setting wildfire season, and substantial social unrest. But with this new year and new leadership in the legislature come promise, and an opportunity for community voices to remind policymakers that our state’s technology sector has been a true bright spot as digital tools, platforms, and services continue to serve as a tide that lifts all boats.

COVID-19 exposed vulnerable populations across the state like never before. And that is particularly true of our seniors, a longtime target of scammers and fraudsters who have capitalized on the pandemic to take advantage of our aging community members. Fortunately, technology partners rose to the occasion. Initiatives like Scam Spotter thwarted countless efforts to exploit vulnerable populations and empowered seniors with the information necessary to spot scams, while actively blocking millions of emails and calls from ever reaching their targets.

Digital platforms have also kept us connected with loved ones during the pandemic. Social isolation remains a top issue facing seniors today – as outlined in our state’s recently announced Master Plan for Aging – and the ability to communicate virtually with friends and family has been crucial to both mental and physical health. And the achievement of such a plan cannot be understated.

When I represented District 47 (San Bernadino) in the Assembly, I spent my days in the Capitol urging my colleagues to pay more attention to our state’s senior care crisis and the burden imposed on family caregivers, like me. With technology in our corner, caregivers will receive much-needed support, seniors will become less isolated, and we will all benefit as a result.

The capital of global high-tech innovation is right here in our proverbial backyard. A major engine of our state economy, Silicon Valley has over a thousand technology companies, large and small — 30 of them on Fortune’s 1000 list of firms — and many of them household names around the world.

The tech sector has also been integrally involved in an effort on all of our minds – vaccination. Local governments are leaning on leading technology companies to support such a considerable set of logistical and data-oriented challenges. Companies like IBM are offering digital supply chain management technologies to assist in the organization of vaccine distribution efforts, and Google is broadening its Cloud storage capacity to handle the online influx – while at the same time launching a multi-million dollar fund to fight vaccine misinformation.

It is worth examining the resilience that California’s small business community has demonstrated through the pandemic as well, and again how technology platforms stepped up. When the pandemic began, small businesses adapted and quickly sprang into action, implementing intense safety measures to keep customers safe, communities employed, and our economy moving. This adaptation, enabled in large part by digital technologies, was critically important to minority-owned businesses in particular who have been disproportionately impacted by both business closures and health impacts as a result of the pandemic. Technology is woven into our very fabric of our lives and society, and it is increasingly clear that the pandemic has exposed just how important innovation and adaptability are in the face of these historic challenges.

Now is the time for our legislators to recognize technology companies for what they truly are: massive employers and key drivers of our state’s economic growth, who have risen to the occasion during the pandemic to protect vulnerable populations and support public health efforts.

In the year ahead, our political leadership should make a concerted effort to encourage further contributions from the technology sector and create an environment more welcoming to growth, investments, and partnerships. We should seize the opportunity to embrace a homegrown industry that is not only essential to the rebuilding of our local and national economies, but one that has proven to be a steady partner through the multitude of challenges we’ve faced together this past year.

About the Author

Cheryl Brown, a former Democratic Assemblymember from San Bernardino, is a member of the California Commission on Aging.


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