As North Carolina pushes to recruit two of the most prized economic development projects in the country, not all the focus is on economic investments and workforce needs.
As Triangle Business Journal has reported, Apple is looking to add another campus away from its Cupertino, California, headquarters. Amazon has publicly identified the Raleigh-Durham area as one of the top 20 cities for its second headquarters campus (HQ2).
Both tech giants, however, are going about the process differently: Amazon made its wishes and its initial target list public while Apple is going about its due diligence in a conventional manner — privately.
But these two projects have something in common – they want permanent closure on North Carolina’s House Bill 2-related issues.
For readers not aware of the HB2 law, the legislature approved a bill in 2016 that prevented transgender people from using government-run bathrooms for the gender with which they identify, and the bill included other measures. It all started in Charlotte, when the Mayor Jennifer Roberts led the City Council to pass an anti-discrimination measure to protect the LGBTQ community. North Carolina lawmakers then passed a statewide law banning towns and cities from taking any Charlotte-like action, and thereby reversing the Charlotte measure. Intense debate followed – mostly along party lines, and in the following November elections, voters threw out both Roberts and Gov. Pat McCrory, who had signed and supported the statewide law.
The majority of North Carolina businesses opposed HB2, which was eventually repealed in March 2017 after the new governor, Roy Cooper, took office. However, the ban on town and municipalities from passing their own anti-discrimination measures remained intact through 2020.
Many inside the economic development circles now say that measure restricting towns and municipalities from enacting their own standards of equality may come under scrutiny.
Amazon and Apple have asked about HB2 in their visits, and may be seeking some kind of a permanent resolution from the General Assembly that such provisions would not be adopted in the future.
Of course, Cooper and his jobs-recruiting team are on board with that sentiment. But the question remains whether Senate majority leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore will be able to do anything with their respective chambers?
In fact, Cook, who announced he was gay in 2015, may be worried about North Carolina lawmakers bringing this issue back in the forefront. A government official who has been involved in at least one discussion with Apple officials said Apple may be looking for something more than just a verbal assurance.
“We really check all their boxes in terms of economic interests and opportunities,” this official said. “But this social issue is on their mind.”
Danica Roem, a transgender member of the Virginia legislature, told online news portal Axios: “We should be rewarding states that are making steps toward progress instead of states where progress has stalled. You still have a problematic legislature in North Carolina that is clearly not amenable to any supportive LGBTQ legislation.”
That drumbeat will only increase. What may be worrisome from North Carolina’s perspective is there certainly are a percentage of the population in the Raleigh-Durham area who do not want Apple or Amazon to locate here, fearing a radical change in the look of our communities. If some of them are still seething from the HB2 repeal for whatever reason, social issues may bring the groups together.
As for me, I applaud Cook. He runs Apple, makes billions of dollars for his shareholders and positively impacts the U.S. economy. And yes, he is passionate about gay rights and equal treatment of everyone. His voice must be heard.
This is the bottom line – If Apple decides it will not pick North Carolina because of its discomfort with how state lawmakers view social issues, Amazon will follow suit as well.
Jeff Bezos cannot afford to spend six months defending the company’s choice for HQ2 if Cook says LGBTQ rights is the reason why it bypassed the Tar Heel State.
All of North Carolina has a choice to make – that is far from important than just offering tax incentives to please companies pledging jobs.
Once and for all, we must look for ways to put these HB2-type sentiments and measures to rest.