Tech Will Help Drive Economy in Unpredictable Year

By Tom Still, WTC President

The list of economic uncertainties for 2022 is long and complex, with COVID-19 variants, supply chain woes, energy disruptions, climate-change anxieties, and political frictions around the world producing jittery markets.

It’s time to look for trends in technology to calm frazzled nerves on Wall Street as well as Wisconsin’s Main Streets.

Analysts at International Data Corp., the global market intelligence firm, predict the technology industry is on track to exceed $5.3 trillion in 2022 — thus returning to the 5% to 6% annual growth rate typical before the pandemic. The United States is the world’s largest tech market, representing about a third of the projected total at $1.8 trillion.

Tech overcame the 2020 speed bump precisely because COVID-19 triggered so much change. The workplaces of today are no longer easily defined. Changes in business travel forced innovation. Cybersecurity threats led to more investment across industry lines, from financial services to “Mom and Pop” retailers. Phrases such as “quantum computing,” “virtual reality,” and “artificial intelligence” were once the exclusive lingo of computer scientists; today, they’re part of the business plans for many companies.

It all points to bigger tech budgets, greater investment and more innovation pushing through the economic super-structure.

Technology will continue to disrupt many verticals. Health care is being transformed through telemedicine and wearables, not to mention breakthroughs in diagnostics and therapeutics. The jury is out on how effective remote learning has been for students of all ages, but online education will continue to have a role in the classroom. Sales through eCommerce in the United States continue to soar (hence, some of today’s supply chain troubles) and trends such as cryptocurrency are altering the financial world.

Tech can help slow climate change effects through conservation controls in homes, offices, cities, and power plants, even if “crypto-mining” has become an energy vampire. Likewise, as technology displaces many people in the workforce, it will create more new jobs than it destroys. The trick is ensuring that people are trained to do the work and opportunities don’t bypass women and minorities.

There are some threats to U.S. tech sectors, but also opportunities for Wisconsin to grow as a tech-savvy state.

In Washington, D.C., Congress should establish data privacy rules that are national in scope versus a state-by-state approach that could hamper companies engaged in eCommerce, finance, or insurance. Congress should avoid unnecessary taxes on venture capital managers and not pass an antitrust bill that would shut down “exit” options for young companies.

Congressional consensus around bipartisan plans to invest federal dollars in key research areas could help Wisconsin, especially if the state’s research universities and private partners can compete for one or more R&D “hubs” envisioned through the National Science Foundation.

In the Wisconsin Legislature, the refining of the state’s investor tax-credit law will lead to more angel and venture capital dollars flowing into young companies. When the Qualified New Business Venture law took effect in 2005, angel and venture capital investments could be measured in the tens of millions of dollars. The 2021 total will easily exceed $500 million, in part because those credits are pulling four times their weight in private investment. Pending bills would improve the law.

The new year may be tumultuous in many ways, but growth in tech markets could help smooth choppy waters.

The Wisconsin Technology Council is the independent, non-partisan science and technology advisor to the governor and the Legislature.