SAINE: Tech sector key to North Carolina economy, national security

FILE – This Feb 23, 2019, photo shows the inside of a computer. A key part of President Joe Biden’s plans to fight major ransomware attacks and digital espionage campaigns has been languishing for more than eight months.(AP Photo/Jenny Kane, File)

North Carolina is a hub for tech innovation. From high-tech manufacturing to biotech, large technology companies have flocked to our state in recent years, bringing high-paying jobs, growth, and economic opportunity.  

The tech sector alone supports more than 350,000 jobs, accounting for 20 percent of the state’s overall employment. Tech accounts for an estimated annual $48.9 billion contribution to the state’s economy. This role is predicted to continue to grow, with a 15 percent growth rate in technology occupations predicted between 2020 and 2030. This places the Tar Heel State alongside California and other top contenders for top net tech employment in the nation and opens the door for endless innovation.   

For small businesses and Main Street America, tech tools and digital platforms have become an increasingly important lifeline. As we saw during the COVID-19 pandemic, new technology often made the difference between keeping doors open and closing for good. Without online platforms and e-commerce tools, businesses would have struggled to reach customers and continue operations at any level.  

These online tools have been integrated in small businesses’ day-to-day operations and many business owners say they will rely on these tools well into the future to expand sales and reach beyond geographical boundaries. In fact, a survey found 65 percent of small businesses in North Carolina increased their use of digital tools during COVID-19 and over half plan to use even more digital tools post-pandemic.   

But the technology our state exports not only supports Main Street small businesses and America’s competitiveness globally, technology developed by North Carolina companies also underpins U.S. national and cyber-security.  

Given the importance of tech for our national security, military operations and capabilities and cyber protection, now more than ever, America cannot afford to undermine our own technology sector. Doing so would cede our leadership position to foreign adversaries, like China, Russia and other autocratic regimes, who do not share the American values of a free and open internet.   

It has been reported that nations like China and Russia have used cyberattacks to undermine opposing nations’ critical infrastructure, financial institutions and governments. Just last month, Russia attempted to launch a cyberattack on Ukraine’s government ministries and financial institutions as it also waged physical warfare on the country. Belarus, too, recently conducted widespread phishing campaigns against Ukraine and Poland.   

As these attacks continue, we are seeing just how high the stakes are. For instance, Russia restricted certain social media sites to eliminate “false information” surrounding its invasion of Ukraine.   

While Congress considers a package of anti-innovation bills that aim to break up America’s most innovative companies, we risk killing the goose that laid the proverbial golden egg.  Ceding America’s longstanding technological edge to autocratic countries that abuse the internet to control the flow of information and monitor their citizens, would be a disaster for both the United States’ national and economic security.   

This legislation would hamstring our country’s tech innovators, some of which call North Carolina home, curtailing these companies’ innovation capabilities and creating obstacles that could negatively impact the development of cutting-edge technologies we need to stay competitive.  

Forcing American citizens and small businesses to rely on foreign-based platforms would potentially compromise our personal privacy, national security and free flow of information. 

As we move forward, North Carolinians, small businesses and American communities across the nation are dependent upon Congress to fight for American innovation and retain our tech sector’s leadership. By opposing these reckless proposals, Senator Tillis can continue his strong record of leadership and protect America’s national security, promote innovation, and ensure we remain competitive in the face of rising China and Russia.  

Jason Saine represents Lincoln County in North Carolina House of Representatives and is the Senior Chairman of House Committee on Appropriations