For the first time in its 90-year history, the International Economic Development Council devoted a session at its annual conference to an LGBT-specific topic. The timing was certainly appropriate given the controversy in North Carolina on House Bill 2, which, among other things, mandated transgender people in public places to use bathrooms that correspond with the sex on their birth certificate.
Session panelists cited research that shows a connection between a welcoming environment for the LGBT community and positive economic development outcomes. Talent attraction is one of the top economic development priorities for any community.
Panelist John Sternlicht, executive director of the Economic Development Association of Skagit County in Washington state, noted that cities and states that have adopted pro-LGBT policies and legislation tend to attract more knowledge workers and creative class talent that fuel growth in innovative industries.
“Being welcoming to diversity is in direct correlation to attracting a new breed of workers, LGBT or not,” Sternlicht says.
As availability of talent becomes among the top considerations for companies making location or expansion decisions, it has become even more critical that communities embrace diversity and promote inclusive policies.
Alana Jochum, an attorney and managing director of Equality Ohio, a statewide advocacy organization, noted that in states that don’t provide specific protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation, individual municipalities have sometimes stepped in with their own anti-discrimination policies.
Panelists also encouraged economic development organizations to urge the companies in their community, large and small, to specifically include gender identity and sexual orientation in their corporate anti-discrimination policies.
“Companies are not going to go where employees are not happy,” Sternlecht says.
The economic impacts of perceived anti-LGBT policies on a large scale is well documented. Charlotte, NC, for example, lost the NBA All-Star Game following House Bill 2’s passage, major corporate citizens like Bank of America have criticized its passage, companies such as PayPal have put off expansion plans and major conventions have opted out of North Carolina.
On a smaller but no less significant scale, communities that are perceived as not welcoming could face more difficulty keeping their homegrown talent, who might opt to relocate to places that have inclusive policies in place, and be much less competitive in attracting entrepreneurial companies.
Economic developers need to be proactive in alerting their business communities and their lawmakers about the impact that legislation that is perceived as discriminatory or exclusionary can have on business recruitment and expansion.
Economic developers, says Sternlecht, “are not the ones doing this but we get dumped on when it gets done.”