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NC bathroom law a ‘double-edged sword’ for South Carolina

Protesters head into the Legislative building for a sit-in against House Bill 2 in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, April 25, 2016.
Protesters head into the Legislative building for a sit-in against House Bill 2 in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, April 25, 2016. AP

South Carolina could benefit from the fallout from North Carolina’s controversial bathroom law, S.C. business leaders say.

Companies opposed to discriminatory laws could look more favorably on South Carolina, leaders say.

However, the impact of the proposal is a “double-edged sword,” said Lancaster County Administrator Steve Willis.

That is because the S.C. border counties that align with Charlotte for economic development could be hurt by businesses pulling out or canceling their expansion plans in the Queen City, he said.

‘Puts South Carolina in a good place’

Industries that are looking to expand in the United States are looking at the N.C. law – a ban on people using public bathrooms other than for the sex designated on their birth certificates – to see where a state stands, said S.C. Chamber of Commerce President Ted Pitts.

“That only puts South Carolina in a good place going forward on economic development projects,” said Pitts, a former chief of staff to S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley.

The S.C. Chamber and Republican Haley both opposed a similar S.C. proposal.

Final efforts to pass that bathroom ban, sponsored by state Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, failed earlier this month.

“This is just not something that’s a problem,” Pitts said, adding, “It’s a proposal that would be unenforceable.”

The backlash in North Carolina and, earlier, against Georgia – where legislators passed a religious freedom proposal, criticized by some as anti-gay, subsequently vetoed – made it clear that a similar proposal would have an impact on S.C. jobs, Pitts said.

South Carolina is at the top of the list for economic development projects, Pitts said. But, if a proposal like Bright’s were adopted, it would take South Carolina out of that position, he added.

‘South Carolina has been eating North Carolina’s lunch’

The state Commerce Department would not discuss whether there has been a spike in economic development interest in South Carolina since the North Carolina controversy.

“The S.C. Department of Commerce neither comments nor issues data on projects that we may or may not be actively working,” said spokeswoman Adrienne Fairwell.

But South Carolina regularly competes with North Carolina and Georgia for new jobs.

Last year, Volvo Cars decided to build an auto plant in Berkeley County after narrowing its selection to South Carolina and Georgia.

South Carolina also has competed with its northern border state.

“South Carolina has been eating North Carolina’s lunch as far as economic development is concerned for years,” said state Sen. Greg Gregory, R-Lancaster.

North Carolina-based companies that have opened across the border in South Carolina include Red Ventures, a marketing and sales company that expanded its S.C. headquarters in Indian Land in November.

Last month, Lash Group, a patient support services company, held a ribbon cutting for its new Fort Mill headquarters, which moved from Charlotte.

‘But it could hurt us’

Since Lancaster County borders North Carolina, and Willis, the county administrator, said fallout from the controversy could go either way.

“It could help us, but it could hurt us,” Willis said.

None of the companies that Lancaster County currently is working with have said they are interested in Lancaster because they are upset with North Carolina’s new bathroom law, Willis said.

But, if a company is not going to consider the Charlotte region because of the bathroom law, that means Lancaster also might not be considered.

“We’ll never know how much it may hurt us,” Willis said.

North Carolina repealed HB2 in 2017 but left intact some of its provisions. But with Charlotte’s reputation tainted, the city is still paying to market itself to visitors.

Cassie Cope: 803-771-8657, @cassielcope

Businesses halting plans in North Carolina

In the aftermath of North Carolina passage of a bathroom ban, several companies have dropped their expansion plans for that state. Some S.C. business leaders say the Palmetto State could benefit from the fallout.

Deutsche Bank

The German-based bank froze plans to create 250 jobs in Cary, N.C. “We’re proud of our operations and employees in Cary and regret that as a result of this legislation we are unwilling to include North Carolina in our U.S. expansion plans for now,” John Cryan, co-chief executive of Deutsche Bank, said in a statement. “We very much hope that we can revisit our plans to grow this location in the near future.”

PayPal

The financial services company canceled plans to open a global operations center, employing more than 400, in Charlotte. “While we will seek an alternative location for our operations center, we remain committed to working with the LGBT community in North Carolina to overturn this discriminatory legislation, alongside all those who are committed to equality,” PayPal CEO Dan Schulman said in a statement.

Red Ventures

The marketing and sales company, which has a South Carolina presence, has committed to expanding its Charlotte employment by 500 in 2016, CEO Ric Elias said in a letter to N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory. However, Elias said he has been “forced to seriously reconsider adding more jobs in a state that tolerates discrimination and allows political interests to interfere with doing what is right for all citizens.”

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