Opponents of LGBT equality are gearing up for another legislative battle over so-called “religious freedom” bills that are nothing more than an attempt to enshrine discrimination in Georgia law. But before embroiling our state in another round of damaging legislative battles—for the fourth year in a row—those pushing these kinds of bills should take a hard look at the economic consequences of state-sanctioned discrimination in a state where one such bill did succeed: North Carolina.
Since Governor Deal vetoed Georgia’s “license to discriminate” HB 757—just one month after North Carolina’s Governor Pat McCrory signed the country’s most egregiously anti-transgender bill (HB 2) into law—the Peach State’s economy has been on an uptick.
According to federal data, Georgia added 116,000 jobs from July 2015 to July 2016, compared to only 94,000 in North Carolina during that time.
In some cases, business backlash in North Carolina has been to Georgia’s direct benefit. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, sportswear giant Adidas and the consumer-electronics company Honeywell both picked Georgia over North Carolina when deciding where to set a planned expansion.
Over the last 6 months, Georgia has celebrated other major wins in its drive to recruit new businesses and other organizations into the state. When GE was looking for a new home for its digital services division, Atlanta was mentioned as a possible candidate. The company stalled its expansion plan during the HB 757 controversy. But after Gov. Deal vetoed the discriminatory legislation (citing economic concerns among others) GE announced it would move forward, saying: “We would be hard-pressed to set up operations any place that discriminated on any basis. The fact that the governor vetoed the bill — the fact that’s not an issue here — is definitely pertinent in us putting a location here.”
In May the NFL announced it would award Atlanta the 2019 Super Bowl, a decision the organization explicitly said was influenced by the state’s rejection of HB 757.
North Carolina, meanwhile, has seen a raft of businesses and tourism opportunities—including Honeywell and Adidas—flee the state since the Governor signed HB 2 into law. The National Collegiate Athletic Association and Atlantic Coast Conference recently announced they would relocate championship games out of North Carolina because of HB 2, decisions that came a little over a month after the NBA announced it would pull the 2017 All-Star game out of Charlotte for the same reason.
The Charlotte Chamber of Commerce estimates that boycotts from conventions, entertainers, and major sporting events have cost the region more than $250 million in lost tourism dollars. This is on top of losses from frozen expansions, including PayPal and Deutsche Bank.
Hala Moddelmog, CEO of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, said this is exactly why her organization plans to oppose any discriminatory bill that comes up during the 2017 legislative session. She said it’s clear that anti-LGBT legislation is an imminent threat to Georgia’s economic future, especially as the state looks to recruit more millennials into high-tech jobs like the ones brought by GE and Honeywell.
“The data are indicating that being non-discriminatory is positive for business, families, [attracting] talent and everything that we are fighting for here.”
Other economic development groups and industry associations are saying the same, including Georgia Chamber CEO Chris Clark. Clark said that not only is the continued debate over this issue tarnishing Georgia’s image as a welcoming place to do business, it’s just unnecessary. Religious freedom protections already exist in Georgia, and nothing can change that. Legislators should instead be focusing on what they can do to help Georgia’s economy.
“It’s time to move on and focus on continuing to ensure Georgia remains the No. 1 state in the nation to do business.”
Bottom line: Discriminatory religious exemptions legislation like HB 757, or bathroom bans like HB 2 put local and state economies in jeopardy. Religious freedom and equal rights for LGBT people can exist side-by-side and the sky won’t fall.
Georgia Unites urges lawmakers to reject all discriminatory legislation during the 2017 legislative session. Our economy depends on it.SHARE THIS STORY