Viewpoint

Tech leader: We’re ‘horrified’ by HB2

PayPal executive John McCabe and N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory celebrate a Global Operations Center project that was later pulled from Charlotte because of HB2.
PayPal executive John McCabe and N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory celebrate a Global Operations Center project that was later pulled from Charlotte because of HB2. dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

From Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,400 consumer technology companies:

Even after NBA made good on its threat to pull the 2017 basketball All-Star Game out of Charlotte because of North Carolina’s discriminatory HB2 anti-LGBT law, the governor’s office still didn’t understand why.

This move wasn’t about “out-of-state special interest groups” seeking to pressure businesses to penalize the state, as State Budget Director Andrew Heath said following the NBA’s announcement. It’s about promoting policies that make North Carolina a welcoming place to do business.

Despite the fact that losing the All-Star Game will cost the city and state millions of dollars in lost sales taxes and other revenues, the state’s budget chief said that the NBA’s action — along with decisions by PayPal and Deutsche Bank to forgo expansions in the state — would “not significantly impact state revenues and is more than offset by the tremendous job growth experienced in our state.”

Maybe and maybe not, but Heath’s office is ignoring the larger issue here. Whether intentional or unintentional, HB2, dubbed “the bathroom bill” — legislation that supporters say is designed to protect their privacy rights — legalizes and protects discrimination, and that makes the state a less desirable place to do business.

Businesses can thrive only by attracting the best and brightest employees. That talent pool not only includes LGBT employees, but also a younger generation of Americans who largely think everyone should be allowed to marry and adopt, use bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity, and avail themselves of all the other protections of anti-discrimination laws.

That’s no small consideration, particularly given that Heath made his disturbingly dismissive remarks in connection with the announcement of a $2 billion bond issue that he said would be used in part to improve the state’s education system. The emphasis on higher education, especially science, technology and the medical field, Heath said, bolsters the state’s mission to become a tech hub.

That’s going to be a problem, however, because HB2 is a blemish on North Carolina’s otherwise excellent pro-business reputation, particularly for tech firms. So much so, in fact, that more than 160 CEOs and business executives from major tech players such as Airbnb, Google and Yelp signed an open letter urging the law’s repeal. I signed this letter on behalf of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA)TM.

More, I have spoken directly with three CEOs of major North Carolina companies who are horrified by HB2 and concerned about the stain it puts on the reputation of North Carolina as an attractive place to live and work.

HB2 is all the more regrettable because North Carolina has much to offer, earning “Innovation Leader” status, the second-highest ranking, on CTA’s annual Innovation Scorecard for 2016. The state was recognized for its right-to-work laws and general openness to new business models, such as ride-sharing.

Just last fall, for instance, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed a bill into law legalizing and regulating ride-sharing services, such as Uber and Lyft. The move was a symbol of forward thinking and innovation.

But HB2 is a dangerous step backward. North Carolina’s law, if not dialed back, will tar the pro-business reputation of the state and hurt its competitiveness.

On behalf of the more than 2,200 U.S. companies that collectively represent the $287 billion U.S. consumer technology industry, we urge the North Carolina General Assembly to revisit this hastily enacted law. The fight for full equality for our gay and lesbian relatives, friends and neighbors can start here.

Twitter: @GaryShapiro

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