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San Antonio is having a moment. Over the last decade, policymakers have worked to create a San Antonio that is a hospitable and competitive place to work, live, and raise a family in.
Businesses have flooded in, taking advantage of the city’s many favorable attributes such as its talented workforce, its rich history, and its great quality of life. Entrepreneurs have followed suit, and as a result San Antonio is home to some of the most diverse industries in Texas – from tourism and travel to bioscience and health care, military and national defense funding, and IT and tech start-ups.
With so much going so well for San Antonio right now, it’s hard to believe that Texas would actually seek to harm the state’s brand and have a direct chilling impact on San Antonio’s economy.
But that’s exactly what some Texas leaders – people with a responsibility to protect and grow Texas’ reputation as one of the best places in the nation to live, work, visit, and do business – are talking about doing.
Late last month, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced that regulating bathroom use by transgender people is one of his top priorities for 2017. But while making this announcement, Patrick noted that “transgender people have obviously been going into the ladies’ room for a long time, and there hasn’t been an issue that I know of.”
Patrick’s assertion that there are no public safety issues is backed up by data: Dallas, Austin, Fort Worth, an El Paso, for example, each have had ordinances in place for more than a decade to protect transgender people in public accommodations, and those cities have reported zero increase in crime or harm as a result of that protection. Nationwide, more than 200 municipalities and 18 states have similar laws in place, also without creating any harm or public safety risk.
So if we agree – and it seems we do – that targeting transgender people’s bathroom usage doesn’t address any public safety issues, what will such action accomplish? The answer is pretty simple: economic harm to big and small businesses and to jobs and tax revenues, for years to come. We know this because we’ve seen it play out multiple times in the last few years – most recently in North Carolina.
Earlier this year, lawmakers in North Carolina passed HB2, a law banning transgender people from using public restrooms and prohibiting cities from enforcing ordinances that provide protections for LGBTQIA people. Gov. Pat McCrory immediately signed the bill into law. In the ensuing six months, the publicly reported cost to the state, stemming from boycotts by companies, convention planners, and sports organizations, is nearly half a billion dollars. And with HB2 still firmly in place, the economic fallout shows no signs of drying up.
Consider this: The Charlotte Chamber estimates that the metro region has lost approximately $285 million because of HB2. The NBA pulled the All-Star game from Charlotte, costing the region more than $100 million in revenue. The Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) pulled its title championship game, costing Charlotte as much as $30 million. In late October, commercial real estate giant CoStar announced it would locate a new research operations center in Virginia rather than Charlotte – specifically because of HB2. That loss will cost Charlotte 730 jobs and approximately $250 million in investments.
Charlotte, like San Antonio, boasts great quality of life, a talented workforce, and a good cost of living.
Charlotte, like San Antonio, was poised to host major sporting events with massive expected economic impact.
Charlotte, like San Antonio, has put a lot of effort and investment into attracting corporate investments that result in high-paying, 21st-century jobs.
Charlotte, like San Antonio, has positioned itself as a major draw for meetings and conventions.
Imagine a repeat of Charlotte in San Antonio. Corporate expansion plans – the result of months or years of work by San Antonio’s economic development professionals – are canceled, and with them, hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in investments.
Planners in charge of dozens of the myriad events held every year at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center and other venues begin pulling out, because they can’t condone doing business or putting on performances in a state that is hostile to some of their attendees.
The NCAA acts exactly as it did in North Carolina, relocating the 2018 men’s basketball Final Four from San Antonio and to another state. The hundreds of thousands of people that would have come to town for these events and meetings go somewhere else, setting off a domino effect of canceled hotel rooms, empty restaurants, and significantly reduced foot traffic for small businesses across the city.
In San Antonio, this kind of fallout would result in reduced hours and lost jobs for waiters, tour guides, travel agents, and so many others in the travel, tourism, and hospitality industries. It would reduce the hotel occupancy tax levied on every hotel room night, revenue that provided almost $57 million to the city of San Antonio in 2013.
It would create an overall depression on the San Antonio hospitality industry, which generated almost $3 billion in taxable revenue in 2010. And in the long term, a negative brand for Texas could impact San Antonio’s successes in job creation in the tech, health care, and government contracting industries.
These aren’t empty fears or the byproduct of an overactive imagination. Nationwide, a stunning 97% of event planners were aware of anti-LGBTQIA laws passed in Mississippi and North Carolina in 2016, and nearly 50% said they would “absolutely” avoid planning events in states with discriminatory laws on the books. On the sports front, the NCAA and the NBA have shown their willingness to vote with their feet, moving key events out of North Carolina until HB2 is no longer in place.
More than 200 small businesses from across Texas recently spoke up in opposition to discriminatory action at a press conference in San Antonio, and that’s just the beginning. Businesses big and small from across the state are joining together through the Texas Competes partnership to send a clear message that an inclusive and welcoming Texas is critical to ensuring our state – and its businesses – remain vibrant and economically competitive.
We have worked too hard – across Texas and in San Antonio – to build communities that we are proud to leave behind for our next generation. With nothing to gain and so much to lose, we are at a pivotal moment to ensure our communities, our jobs, and our economy don’t repeat our neighbor’s mistakes.