Recruiters hopeful North Carolina can be ‘competitive again’ after HB2 repeal

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper holds a press conference at the Executive Mansion in Raleigh Thursday to announce that he signed a HB142, a compromise replacement bill for HB2, that the N.C. General Assembly passed earlier in the day.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper holds a press conference at the Executive Mansion in Raleigh Thursday to announce that he signed a HB142, a compromise replacement bill for HB2, that the N.C. General Assembly passed earlier in the day. AP

Business recruiters are hopeful that a House Bill 2 repeal compromise signed into law this week will open doors for North Carolina that closed a year ago when HB2 first became law.

Since HB2’s passage in March 2016, economic development officials have seen a rash of companies, such as PayPal, publicly cancel plans to come to the state over the law that limited protections for LGBT individuals. They have also lamented the unknown number of firms that crossed the state off their list without even telling recruiters here.

The repeal measure “will allow us to put the issue behind us,” said John Lassiter, the chairman of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, the public-private group that recruits businesses to the state. “It allows our economic development efforts I think to really pick up some speed.”

Lassiter, a former Charlotte City Council member, said a number of companies have been watching to see what the state would do about HB2 before making any moves. He now expects to have several projects to talk about within the next month, although he didn’t provide any names.

Other recruitment groups also struck an optimistic tone on Friday.

“It’s got to help,” Ronnie Bryant, CEO of the Charlotte Regional Partnership, said of the repeal measure. “It’s perceived as a reset.”

Bryant, whose group markets the 16-county Charlotte region, said he’s already heard from some people from outside the state looking for clarity on the legislation. And starting next week, the organization plans to actively start going after new prospects, he said.

“I think the right thing has been done,” he said. “I’m just looking forward to showing that we’re competitive again.”

Meanwhile, the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, the city’s tourism arm, started reaching out to customers and prospective visitors Thursday to tout Charlotte as a business destination, spokeswoman Laura White said.

The group estimates that direct spending only for event-related cancellations over HB2 totals $83.9 million in Charlotte. The figure takes into account canceled events like the NBA All-Star Game and annual conventions.

“I hope this news reaffirms your faith in Charlotte as an inclusive destination that welcomes all who visit and bring business here,” the CRVA said in a sample letter to customers.

House Bill 142, passed by the legislature and signed into law by Gov. Roy Cooper Thursday, repealed HB2, the so-called “bathroom bill” enacted by legislators to nullify a Charlotte ordinance that extended civil rights protections to LGBT people. But the new law included other provisions, including a prohibition on local governments from regulating public accommodations or private employment practices before Dec. 1, 2020.

That has led some groups to say the repeal measure wasn’t a repeal at all and to continue their call for sports organizations such as the NCAA to boycott the state. The NCAA, whose midday deadline state lawmakers had rushed to meet Thursday, has not said whether the repeal deal meets its criteria for a return to North Carolina.

Business groups, however, helped broker the compromise this week and have come out in support. After the law’s approval, Charlotte Chamber CEO Bob Morgan, who traveled to Raleigh on Thursday, called the measure a “bipartisan compromise repeal” and praised leaders of both parties who backed the deal.

“From an economic development perspective, we have spent too much time over the last year talking to our clients about bathrooms,” Morgan said.

“We are now able to focus on our great cost environment, a workforce that is large, growing and talented. We are able to spotlight assets like Charlotte Douglas International Airport – and that’s exciting. It allows us to look forward not backward.”

Bank of America had also urged a repeal of HB2, with CEO Brian Moynihan saying recently that he knew of companies quietly passing over the state because of the law.

“Our consistent view has been that repeal of HB2 is the best policy for North Carolina,” bank spokesman Dan Frahm said Friday. “We support this bipartisan measure to repeal HB2 and create the conditions for continued dialogue and progress.”

One of the more high-profile businesses to pull out of the state was payments processor PayPal, which canceled an already announced 400-employee operations center after HB2 became law. At a Charlotte Regional Partnership luncheon on Thursday, N.C. Commerce Secretary Tony Copeland said he planned to call PayPal after the repeal’s passage, but acknowledged it “won’t be an instant transformation of image” for the state.

A PayPal spokesman on Friday said he did not have any updates on the company’s plans, adding that there have been “no new developments related to the status of our operations center.”

Rick Rothacker: 704-358-5170, @rickrothacker