Some of the world’s largest and most influential companies do business in Georgia. They are critical to the economy, revving the engines of innovation and providing jobs to millions. But if discriminatory so-called “religious freedom” bills become law, the economic fallout could be catastrophic.
State agencies have estimated that our state would lose billions in revenue to the tourism industry alone. Highly-innovative, highly-profitable companies are already threatening to leave Georgia in favor of states that don’t discriminate. And entertainment insiders have said the industry—competing with cutting edge places like Los Angeles and New York—would all but bottom-out.
In short, Georgia businesses are concerned, and they’re speaking out.
Salesforce CEO, Marc Benioff, led the forceful business opposition front when he drew the national spotlight to Georgia in the wake of last month’s hasty Senate vote to pass the discriminatory First Amendment Defense Act (FADA). Since then, he has threatened significant reductions in the company’s economic investment in the state:
“We’re looking squarely at what’s going on in Georgia with House Bill 757, which means that we may have to reduce our investments in the state of Georgia based on what we’re seeing with the state government there … We will deliver a rolling thunder of economic sanctions against the state, in this case Georgia, which is waging a war against LGBT people.”
Salesforce lists Atlanta among its top-5 U.S. employment centers and is one of Georgia’s fastest-growing tech companies. If it divests from the state because of unnecessary and discriminatory so-called “religious freedom” legislation, hardworking Georgians will bear the brunt of the burden.
After Benioff’s unequivocal denouncement of anti-LGBT bills like FADA, other major Georgia companies were fast to join the ranks. Earlier this month, Delta CEO Ed Bastian added his voice to the chorus of business opposition and announced his allegiance to Governor Deal, who has said he would reject any discriminatory “religious freedom” bills on basis of his own religious values. In a statement, Bastian said:
“With a diverse workforce that includes more than 30,000 employees across Georgia, we fully support Governor Deal rejecting a bill, including Bill 757, that would do anything other than uphold equality and ensure Georgia remains a welcoming state for everyone.”
Delta employs more than 30,000 Georgians and makes Atlanta a major travel hub. Again, who would pay the price for state-sanctioned discrimination? Hardworking Georgians, tens of thousands of whom will be out of work if Delta leaves the state.
The corporate leadership of Unilever, Virgin Airlines, Dell and Microsoft have also raised their voices against these discriminatory bills.
— Paul Polman (@PaulPolman) February 27, 2016
— Michael Dell (@MichaelDell) February 27, 2016
Georgia must stop discrimination in the name of religious freedom https://t.co/E9R9ueejJr
— Richard Branson (@richardbranson) February 27, 2016
— Brad Smith (@BradSmi) February 28, 2016
It’s not just big companies that are worried—it’s small businesses too. A Decatur telecom company, 373K, is leaving Georgia because of FADA and the rash of similar religious exemptions bills currently under consideration at the Capitol. The company’s owner Kelvin Williams, who is gay, says he has serious concerns about being able to hire and retain top talent if FADA passes:
“It makes no sense. It’s absolutely unnecessary. We are a startup and we are trying to get the best talent we can. And I don’t want to be in a state where it is hard to attract the best talent. Before I plant my roots any further, we have decided to leave.”
Lisa Calhoun, a partner at Atlanta-based Valor Ventures, which provides tech startup capital, wrote in the Atlanta Business Chronicle that allowing businesses to discriminate would imperil good business relationships:
“I was surprised to learn the Georgia legislature is considering a law that would allow people to turn customers away. … A free market economy is only free if both sides of the market can choose. The customer gets to choose who she gives her business to. But to be able to do that, the customer can’t be randomly barred.”
Georgia’s hospitality and tourism industry, which has a $53.6 billion economic footprint, is also strongly against these so-called “religious freedom” bills. Starwood Hotels & Resorts, which owns 17 Georgia hotels, recently wrote a letter to Governor Nathan Deal urging him not to sign any bills that would allow businesses to discriminate. Atlanta’s Dragon Con festival, which draws more than 70,000 visitors annually, has vowed not to work with any business partners that discriminate. Grant Hill, co-owner of the Atlanta Hawks—which brought in $30 million in tickets last year—has also spoken out against FADA and RFRA.
Meanwhile, the entertainment industry, whose yearly economic impact in Georgia is estimated to be $6 billion, is also having doubts about establishing Georgia as a major production hub, according to digital entertainment executive Brian Tolleson. His company Bark Bark works with TV, film and advertising clients from New York to Los Angeles:
“This very assembly working on this bill has invested billions of taxpayer dollars growing an industry that would leave this state. The powers that be in the industry really want to defeat Georgia’s rise as entertainment destination. And we’re handing it to them on a silver platter.”
Just earlier this year, Governor Deal pushed for tax credits to the tune of a quarter billion dollars to fund Georgia’s film industry and help build the state’s brand as the Hollywood of the south. He justified the astronomical investments by citing the number of jobs the industry would create and the influx of new revenue to Georgia’s economy. If lawmakers pass anti-LGBT legislation that causes the film industry to divest from Georgia, not only will much-needed jobs and revenue be slashed, taxpayers will be out the quarter billion dollar investment that Governor Deal promised would pay off.
In short, Georgia companies across a diverse range of industries clearly fear so-called “religious freedom” legislation. Bills like FADA and RFRA make our state look like a risky place to do business. They make us look unwelcoming to talented entrepreneurs, employees, and companies who might be thinking of expanding or relocating.
Every day that legislators continue to consider writing discrimination into Georgia’s laws, they are are putting our economy at severe risk. More than 400 companies—including Fortune 500 heavyweights like Delta, Coca-Cola, and Home Depot—have joined Georgia Prospers, a coalition making the business case for inclusion and diversity as cornerstones for economic prosperity—and denouncing state-sanctioned discrimination.SHARE THIS STORY