The good-natured rivalry between Tampa Bay area Mayors Bob Buckhorn and Rick Kriseman now transcends Major League Baseball, with both of them pitching their cities to businesses looking to relocate because of ordinances perceived to be discriminatory to the LGBT community.
The St. Petersburg mayor wrote an op-ed that appeared on The Charlotte Observer‘s website on Wednesday, where he writes that “there has never been a better time for Florida, and especially St. Petersburg, to send the message that we are welcoming, inclusive and open for business.”
His letter was prompted by a roiling controversy in North Carolina. In February, the Charlotte City Council passed an ordinance that extended rights to the LGBT community. One of those rights covered by the ordinance was the ability of transgender members to use the bathroom of the sex they identified with. It was in response to that that the state government introduced House Bill 2 (HB2) to overturn the ordinance.
The signing of that bill by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory signed has set off a firestorm of protests from not just the LGBT community, but the business community. Google, Apple, American Airlines, Marriott and Bank of America, which employs 15,000 people in North Carolina, have all blasted the law.
And on Tuesday, Dan Schulman, the CEO of PayPal, announced that he would was canceling the corporation’s plans for a new operation center that would have employed over 400 people in Charlotte, citing that new law.
That prompted Buckhorn to send a tweet on Tuesday and follow up with an on-air television interview on Wednesday appealing to PayPal to consider relocating to Tampa.
“This is an opportunity to tell corporate America that we are open for business,” Buckhorn told WTVT-Fox 13. “This is a place that you want to do business. If you want to bring those 500 employees here, they will all be treated fairly, they will not be discriminated against based on who they love or any other reason, so I thought it was important as mayor that we get in that game and we tell that story.”
Kriseman wrote his op-ed on Monday, said Ben Kirby, his communications aide, before PayPal announced it would be leaving North Carolina.
“As mayor of St. Petersburg, I am sending the message to businesses looking to relocate that our community respects and protects the dignity and basic rights of all who live, work and play in our city,” Kriseman writes. “In fact, we have consistently received the top ranking in the Municipal Equality Index, a nationwide evaluation of municipal laws and policies.”
Here’s the column:
As Georgia veers to avert the disaster North Carolina has inflicted upon its economy, there has never been a better time for Florida, and especially St. Petersburg, to send the message that we are welcoming, inclusive and open for business.
Today, North Carolina stands as the state with the dubious distinction of having the worst anti-LGBT legislation in the country. I hope they reverse direction for the good of the people who live and travel there. I know it does not reflect the character of the many people I know from North Carolina.
As mayor of St. Petersburg, I am sending the message to businesses looking to relocate that our community respects and protects the dignity and basic rights of all who live, work and play in our city. In fact, we have consistently received the top ranking in the Municipal Equality Index, a nationwide evaluation of municipal laws and policies.
In St. Petersburg, our Chamber of Commerce is a proud member of Florida Business for A Competitive Workforce, a coalition made up of Florida’s top employers pushing to ensure those protections exist all across our great state. The Florida Competitive Workforce act enjoys bipartisan support and the vast majority of Floridians believe nondiscrimination should be the law statewide. I supported that bill as a legislator and as mayor have ensured those protections are strong in our city.
Having witnessed the damage to the reputation and economy of other states, it is surprising to see legislatures self-inflict these injuries. Arizona’s governor vetoed similar legislation in 2014 amidst public outcry and the potential loss of major employers, sporting events and tourism dollars. Indiana held a special session to try and undo the damage of its discriminatory legislation in 2015. A study by Visit Indy found that the state lost more than $60 million in revenue because of its bill that legalized discrimination against our LGBT brothers and sisters.
It is bad enough that these bills harm LGBT people, but they are written in such a way that undermines basic protections for all. A legal analysis of the hastily crafted law reveals that the law may remove the state right to sue for discrimination based on race, religion, color, national origin, age, sex or disability.
That is not the recipe for recruiting and retaining talent. That is not the message that inspires innovation. St. Petersburg, where the sun shines on all, is open for business and eager to provide a new home where hard work, not prejudice and discrimination, determine how high you can climb.