Businesses putting the squeeze on North Carolina over bathroom bill
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North Carolina has enjoyed steady growth in tourism over time, with consistent growth over the last 10 years that outpaces the national average. In addition to their winning NCAA basketball teams that draw thousands of fans, their beaches and historical sites are an incredible attraction.

The state invests over $10 million per year to promote tourism in the state and has long reaped these benefits with nearly 50 million people from across the U.S. visiting North Carolina destinations in 2015, from beach towns to convention centers to concert and sporting venues.

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The money that these visitors spend supports 211,400 jobs and over 45,000 businesses, according to former Governor Pat McCory. However, this investment is being undermined by recent laws that are viewed by many would-be visitors and organizations as discriminatory. 

 

HB2, more commonly known as the “bathroom bill” was widely seen as discriminatory, and its passage in North Carolina prompted many organizations, including the NCAA, to refuse to let the state host any further events while the law in its current form was in place.

The massive political and financial backlash has affected many in the state and caused a contentious debate over the survival of the law, which had become damaging to the reputation of the state, the tourism industry and a financial threat to its many businesses large and small.  

While republican politicians have attempted to downplay the financial implications of the law to the state, estimates have shown that the nearly $4 billion lost through canceled concerts, company moves, sporting events and the like is a conservative estimate.

The recent attempt to “revise” the HB2 bill has rung hollow and served to do little more than reinforce the state’s stance on the treatment of the LGBTQ community, renewing calls to take business elsewhere until an authentic revision of the law is enacted.

Perhaps in a social and political climate of a few years ago, a move like the revised bill might have placated some, but we are in a new social and political era, particularly as far as consumers are concerned. 

Boycotts of brands, even a brand like a state or its tourist board, have generally not lasted terribly long or been very widespread. The proliferation of social media has fueled their start and promoted the existence of movements, but consumers have typically had short memories when it comes to consumer boycotts.

Today’s consumer, however, is different. Today’s consumer is less concerned with short-term boycotts but has embraced “principled buying.” They are informed about what entities are at odds with their values and beliefs and choose to spend their hard-earned dollars elsewhere.

They are also incredibly connected, and they practice this principled buying publicly, using the megaphone that social media provides. They demand the brands they do support disentangle themselves from objectionable entities, thus the calls for artists, leagues, companies and municipalities to cease their dealings with North Carolina. 

In a climate where many feel under siege politically and socially, where the vote of the majority does not necessarily win, many people feel that the greatest source of power that remains is their power as a consumer, both individual and organizational. When votes do not win, the almighty dollar can.

When their voices are not being heard, the economic impact can be felt. Clinging to an unpopular and unjust law is costing the state of North Carolina billions of dollars in the short run, but more importantly, is unraveling many years of brand building by the region.

Articles touting cities in North Carolina as some of the best cities in which to live and raise a family seem to be old news in light of new perceptions of the state.

While the damage can be quantified to some degree on a yearly basis, by counting opportunities that were pulled, it is impossible to count the many deals that are now not even considered or the lasting impact of the ban on perceptions of the state that will carry forward for years to come. 

 

Marlene Towns is as adjunct professor of marketing at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. 


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.