From the big to the small, more tech firms assail HB2

Updated Apr. 1, 2016 at 9:25 a.m.

From the big to the small, more tech firms assail HB2

Human Rights Campaign Human Rights Campaign

If North Carolina’s governor and General Assembly reverse course on the controversial HB2 law, technology and life science firms from small to large will have had a role in that political concession. If the politicos choose not to, then hang on. The ride is likely to get rougher.

No one in Raleigh’s government district, from Gov. Pat McCrory to Republican leaders who rammed through HB2 should have been surprised – or at least caught off-guard – by the ensuing wave of negative reaction from the tech community when the “Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act” was passed.

Don’t forget – just as a year ago when a so-called religious freedom bill was discussed, politicos discovered just how big a voice that some leaders in the tech industry can generate.

Fast forward to the past week …

From Red Hat, Quintiles, IBM and Cisco among multi-national corporations with headquarters and major campuses in the Triangle to smaller firms such as Durham-based agency McKinney to technology startups such as Durham-based Spoonflower, executives from a growing number of companies are making their displeasure known. A list of executives representing companies opposing the bill and signing a letter from the Human Rights Campaign and Equality NC is now well above 100. Many have North Carolina operations.

The state could very well suffer economic fallout, from lost business to companies choosing other destinations for expansion.

Braeburn Pharmaceuticals, for example, is reviewing its planned expansion:

“Braeburn Pharmaceuticals believes in fair treatment and equality for all individuals in their communities. We oppose any legislation that discriminates against the LGBT community and are extremely disappointed with North Carolina’s recent passage of anti-discrimination legislation. Our central mission is to develop new treatments for patients with diseases that are often associated with stigma, such as addiction and schizophrenia. Building a manufacturing and research facility is a business necessity to ensure we fulfill our commitment to patients; we are reevaluating our options based on the recent, unjust legislation.”

Saying no to religious freedom law

Red Hat’s (NYSE: RHT) headquarters are based in Raleigh, and the company is widely recognized for its diversity practices in hiring, recruiting and benefits. And a year ago, CEO Jim Whitehurst declared a proposed religious freedom law was out of bounds.

“Red Hat has always believed in diversity, inclusion, and equality of voices – not only for our associates, but also our partners, customers, the broader technology industry, and the communities where we live and work,” Whitehurst said.

“Our business is deeply rooted in the principles of collaboration and inclusion, where people from diverse backgrounds and experiences come together to share ideas, challenge the status quo, and spur innovation.

“We’ve seen first hand the impact of this collaboration among diverse groups of people.

“We cannot see any economic benefit from divisive legislation, and would prefer to see more attention given to issues that would have a demonstrable positive impact on all citizens.”

So, Whitehurst took the lead again almost as soon as HB2 passed, tweeting his rejection of the measure:

“At #RedHat we strongly value diversity … HB#2 is a clear step backwards. Sad day.”

Spoonflower speaks up

Spoonflower, a promising emerging company focused on custom materials and craft technology, quickly issued a lengthy statement, declaring “Discrimination Bill HB2 Hurts Spoonflower and All NC Business.”

“Defying the interests of North Carolina’s business community, our state legislature passed a bill, #HB2, on Wednesday that opens the door to discriminatory practices against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, bans local governments from passing their own non-discrimination policies, and makes our beloved state look bigoted in the eyes of the rest of the world,” Spoonflower said.

“As an eight-year old startup that has grown from the kitchen tables of its two co-founders into an international business with over 150 employees, Spoonflower’s success depends on the talent and contributions of all its team members, including those who are part of the LGBT community. We value and protect the diversity of our workplace, which is what makes us strong, creates a positive and productive work environment, and draws new customers to our brand.

“HB2, and the sentiment behind it, makes it harder for Spoonflower and other technology companies to lure talent and capital to our state, and reflects a misplaced set of priorities on the part of North Carolina’s governor and the lawmakers who voted for the bill. The North Carolina we know and love is not a place where prejudice is sanctioned. The mission of our governor and legislature should be to craft policies that make our state stronger, more inclusive, and more competitive.

“As entrepreneurs, Spoonflower’s founders came to North Carolina because of its reputation as an enlightened, forward-thinking state. As outside observers have noted in the days since the law was rushed through a special session, North Carolina’s House Bill 2 stands out as one of the most extreme pieces of pro-discrimination legislation passed by any US state. In opposing it, Spoonflower joins some of the state’s largest and most influential employers — including Red Hat, Google, American Airlines, IBM, Biogen, and Paypal — in speaking out against what they see as an anti-business agenda on the part of Pat McCrory and the North Carolina legislative majority.”

Spoonflower closed with the now familiar Twitter tag:


A growing force

Whether one disagrees or agrees with HB2, one fact remains clear:

The state’s growing technology-related business sector is not going to stand idly by as politicians make decisions that these leaders believe have consequences on how they do business, affect how they can recruit employees, and how places they choose to live are affected by politicos’ votes on Jones Street.

Suggestion for reviewing the bill

By the way, if you are among those confused by all the finger pointing about HB2, check out this WRAL report by its NCCapitol team:

WRAL TechWire any time: Twitter, Facebook

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