He described himself as a “simple cotton farmer.” But he was far more than that. He was a very perceptive and adept businessman, and he was the chairman of a local economic development organization.
In meeting with companies that were considering his community as a location for future operations, he would say this, words that have stuck with me over the years:
“What is important to you is important to us.”
I have taken those words to heart in my consulting business. What matters to my clients matters to me. It’s how I can better serve them.
And who are they? More and more, they are diversity-minded companies that have determined, correctly I believe, that discrimination is not good for business. And it’s certainly not good for employee retention and attraction.
And they’re not going to sit idly by and keep quiet. Not now. Not anymore.
People Are the Biggest Asset
You see, these companies are smart. They are looking forward, and they are on the right side of history. And I plan to be there with them.
For those who do not know, I do location analysis for companies. My job, my specialty, is to help companies find optimal places from which to operate. Some would call me a site selection consultant.
And do you know what’s almost always at the top of the list for companies engaged in a site search? It’s talent. Human resources. People.
21st century companies know that people are their biggest asset. Consequently, they want to go where the talent is.
Talent, especially millennial talent, has little patience and tolerance for backwardness and bigotry. They are not attracted to such places and how can you blame them?
You no doubt by now have heard the uproar caused by North Carolina’s new “anti-discrimination” law last month curbing LGBT protections. I wrote about it in last week’s blog. I had no plans to revisit the subject until two things happened this past week.
And Those Two Things?
First, PayPal cancelled a project that would have created 400 new jobs in Charlotte, N.C. Second, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed a bill into law allowing individuals and institutions with religious objections to deny services to gay couples.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory has said that he is not worried about companies leaving the state. That’s a calculated bet. He knows that it’s not easy for a company to physically pick up and move once a major capital investment has been made.
But it’s not so hard for a company to not consider a state for a future capital investment or cancel a project that has been announced. And it’s the latter that PayPal did last week.
CEO Dan Schulman said PayPal was scrapping its plans to build a $3.6 million global operations center in Charlotte and hire 400 people to work there. Schulman said the new law “perpetuates discrimination” and violated the company’s “values and principles.”
North Carolina lured PayPal with $2.7 million in economic development grants, but the state estimated that the facility’s payroll alone would have generated more than $20 million a year.
PayPal is among a litany of Fortune 500 companies, including Bank of America, North Carolina’s largest corporate employer, that have come out against the new law.
Braeburn Pharmaceuticals said it is now “reevaluating our options based on the recent, unjust legislation” whether to build a $20 million manufacturing and research facility that was announced last month in Durham County. At risk: 50 new jobs paying an average of nearly $76,000 a year.
Stupid Is as Stupid Does
Last week, I met with economic developers from Mississippi, some of whom were old friends. And they were embarrassed that their governor had signed a bill into law allowing individuals and institutions with religious objections to deny services to gay couples.
The economic developers knew what was to come. And it surely came – corporate condemnation.
Executives from eight major corporations including PepsiCo, General Electric and the Dow Chemical Company said recruiting and retaining talent in Mississippi would suffer as a result of the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act.”
The three companies joined Hewlett Packard, Hyatt Hotels, Choice Hotels International, Levi Strauss & Co. and Whole Foods in an open letter to Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Phillip Gunn calling for the law’s repeal.
Add Another Barrier to Barriers
J.C. Hiatt, an app developer and CEO of Jackson-based Good Design & Code, toldThe Clarion Ledger , the state’s leading daily newspaper, that for Mississippi’s emerging tech industry to grow, that “we need people here,” and the new law will be a hindrance to that.
“By and large the tech industry are supporters of LGBT rights, social issues and humanitarian efforts. The industry is made up of a lot of millennials, and most of us are concerned with things like social justice,” said Hiatt. “A bill like this economically adds another barrier to barriers that were already there.”
Mississippi Newspapers Roar
Gov. Phil Bryant said the new law “merely reinforces” existing religious freedom rights, “does not limit any constitutionally protected rights or actions” and does not challenge federal law.
But Mississippi newspapers aren’t buying it. The Clarion-Ledger in an April 6 editorial, called the law “another permanent stain on [Mississippi’s] disturbing record with civil rights.”
The newspaper called the measure the state’s “latest Jim Crow Law,” saying it “displayed a sign for the world to see: Welcome to Mississippi. No gays allowed.”
Todd Stauffer, president and publisher of the Jackson Free Press, wrote that Gov. Bryant stands “with the bigoted governors of Mississippi’s past, firm in his determination to uphold the “freedom” of his perceived constituency to act publicly upon their biases and discomfort instead of showing guts and leadership by protecting the lawfully held civil rights of a minority in his state.”
“And he (Bryant) has locked arms with the forces of fear, judgment and isolationism that have driven Mississippi’s “best and brightest” from the state in search of more welcoming places that champion mutual respect, support self-expression and encourage understanding,” Stauffer wrote.
“Bryant’s decision is wrong. It’s bad for people, and it’s bad for business.”
Again, the economic developers from Mississippi that I met with agreed.
Will South Carolina Join the Club?
And now there is a move in South Carolina to join the dumb and dumber club. State Sen. Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, has introduced legislation modeled on North Carolina’s controversial law prohibiting local LGBT nondiscrimination ordinances.
Gov. Haley, if you are reading this, I think you just might be the best economic development governor in the country. You showed great leadership and wisdom with the removal of the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds.
Now please don’t mess up and sign this bill into law.
A Little History
While we celebrate religious freedom in this country (as we should), we also have a long history of justifying discrimination and oppression based on religious belief.
In the Old South, churchgoing, Bible-worshiping Christians justified the institution of slavery by citing scripture, including Ephesians 6:5, “slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling” and Titus 2:9, “tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect.”
Then the Civil War came along, some would call it the “War of Northern Aggression,” and the South lost its “peculiar institution.” I don’t think slavery is being defended from the pulpit anymore.
Skunks Who Steal Gideon Bibles
Still, the bigots and hatemongers would not be denied. Identifying itself as a Christian organization, the Ku Klux Klan would dominate state and local politics and a series of Jim Crow laws would come into being that ensured that black people would remain subjugated and controlled and without civil rights.
Theodore Gilmore Bilbo, a Democrat who twice served as governor of Mississippi and later elected a U.S. Senator, Bilbo defended segregation and was a member of the Klan.
In 1934, Bilbo was elected to the Senate campaigning against “farmer murderers, corrupters of Southern womanhood, [skunks] who steal Gideon Bibles from hotel rooms.”
Bilbo based his racism on religious belief. In his book entitled Take Your Choice: Separation or Mongrelization, Bilbo wrote that “purity of race is a gift of God . . . . And God, in his infinite wisdom, has so ordained it that when man destroys his racial purity, it can never be redeemed.” Allowing “the blood of the races [to] mix,” according to Bilbo, was a direct attack on the “Divine plan of God.”
A Loving Couple
Bilbo was a man of his place and time. His Christian-identity politics were not out of step. Indeed they were codified into law in many southern states, prohibiting a white person and a black person to marry.
That would end in 1967 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Loving v. Virginia that such anti-miscegenation laws as they were called were unconstitutional.
(The case was brought by Mildred Loving, a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, who had been sentenced to a year in prison in Virginia for marrying each other.)
Loving v. Virginia was cited as precedent in U.S. federal court decisions holding restrictions on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. The Supreme Court came to the same conclusion only last year.
In response, states, principally those of the Old Confederacy, are now coming up with “religious freedom” laws, allowing for discrimination against gay people.
It’s an old song, new verse.
Some Rules We Do, Some We Don’t
Of course, good “decent” Christians are free to believe what they want. Clearly we regard certain rules, especially those set out in the Old Testament, as no longer binding. We don’t stone people to death for adultery. That would be murder today.
Nor do we do sanction by law things today that the Bible would appear to allow, such as prostitution, polygamy, and the treatment of women as property.
(For what it’s worth, I see myself as a Christian, albeit a very flawed one. But who isn’t?)
I’m all for religious freedom, but I’m also against denying people their basic civil rights. The law of the land is that gay people have equal rights. Denying them such, which is what these state “religious freedom” laws are all about, goes against the grain.
North Carolina and Mississippi take heed. Listen to your corporate community and join the 21st century. As a Southerner, I know that you are better than this. Swallow your pride and prejudice and repeal these laws. Georgia and Arkansas refused to succumb to the dark side and so can you.
And taking it back to the business angle, which is what this blog has been about for years now, most 21st companies have concluded that discrimination does not make for good business. And it sure as hell is not good for finding and keeping talent.
Now if only state legislatures and governors would listen to their customers, the job creators. I’ll see you down the road.
Dean Barber is the president/CEO of Barber Business Advisors, LLC, a location advisory and economic development consulting firm based in Dallas. He can be reached at email@example.com or at 972-890-3733.