When thinking about Virginia industries, it would be a disservice to not consider the impact that technology has made to the state. The tech sector has driven our economy, making Virginia the state with the second highest concentration of tech workers in the United States. More than 70% of the internet is routed through Virginia, while the cloud industry contributes $3.4 billion to the Virginia economy and employs more than 303,000 local residents.
I have personally seen the importance of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education and specifically how technology can empower Black communities. The STEM field transformed my life. By the age of 14, I had been expelled from school, and at 15, I was placed on probation in the infamous “Scared Straight” program. Now, I am a cybersecurity engineer with a 20-year career at a world-class consulting firm that I left to build Mission Fulfilled 2030, a sustainable nonprofit focused on helping Virginia bridge the opportunity gap for boys and people of color.
Technology has created opportunities for hundreds of thousands of Virginians, and we should continue to encourage investments such as Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) funding that bolster Virginia’ tech infrastructure. However, restrictive policies are undermining Virginia’s investment in technology innovation. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, recently reintroduced the American Innovation and Choice Online Act (AICOA), which mirrors a failed piece of legislation from the last Congress. By introducing policies such as AICOA that will restrict technological processes critical to modern business operations, policymakers overlook the demands of a modern workforce and run the risk of damaging the economy of our great commonwealth.
Black Americans make up only 5% of the STEM workforce. I founded Mission Fulfilled 2030 with the vision to inspire, educate, and activate 100,000 young Black men with the belief that this group has the potential to be the future of our digital technology workforce given the right exposure and mentorship.
As a generation of digital natives, young professionals say that technology influences their social life, media consumption and even how they find a job. I am working to create a future where Black men will find new roles at startups, tech firms and in IT fields.
Policies like AICOA restrict the functionality of technology and the ability to innovate by targeting reliable and safe digital platforms. Restricting technology also undermines the equitable access young Black men have to a successful and profitable career. In a study by Dell Technologies, 40% of Generation Z considered learning new digital skills to be critical to future career options. This makes sense, considering the estimated 6.4 million Americans currently relying on tech for employment, with CompTIA reporting that there are more than 360,000 people working in tech jobs in Virginia alone.
However, more than a third of Dell Technologies survey respondents reported not having adequate opportunities to learn about the technologies they consider to be imperative to their future. The newest generation joining the workforce needs the support of policymakers now more than ever, but restrictive tech legislation would be a short-sighted mistake.
Silicon Valley’s motto may be to move fast and break things, but policymakers need to slow the push to regulate technology, so they don’t harm the populations they claim to protect. I call for Virginia legislators to continue to support innovation, high-paying tech jobs in Virginia and equitable opportunities for advancement for people of color across Virginia.
Gerald A. Moore Sr. of Ashburn is the CEO and founder of Mission Fulfilled 2030. He has more than 20 years of experience as a federal government contractor as an information technology and cybersecurity engineer. He has also worked as an educator in the public school system teaching technology.
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