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Texas business leaders Monday condemned a slate of anti-LGBTQ bills winding through the Texas Legislature as harmful to Texans and a threat to the state’s economy, which is still reeling from the recession that accompanied the coronavirus pandemic.
Tech companies in particular may be discouraged from doing business in Texas if the bills pass, according to Servando Esparza, executive director for the Texas and the southeast region of TechNet, a network of technology CEOs and executives.
“Any barriers to opportunity in Texas will make it harder for tech companies and other employers to convince other people to call this wonderful place home,” Esparza said. “We respectfully ask lawmakers not to do anything that will make it more challenging for talented, highly educated workers that companies need to hire.”
Texas’ unemployment rate in March was 6.9%, which was flat compared to the month before and is more than double the record low of 3.4% in May 2019. March data shows the loss of around 400,000 Texas jobs in the last year. But there are continued signs of improvement — and from February to March, 99,000 jobs were added.
Esparza’s comments came during a press conference held by Texas Competes, which is made up of more than 1,450 Texas employers, chambers of commerce, tourism bureaus and industry associations advocating the “economic case for equality.” Members of the group argued that passing anti-LGBTQ legislation would “tarnish Texas’s welcoming brand” and scare away tourism and business. Among the group’s supporters are big tech companies like Hewlett Packard, who recently moved their headquarters to Houston.
Lisa Hermes, CEO of the McKinney Chamber of Commerce, was specifically concerned after the NCAA’s announcement that they would only hold national championships in states where transgender student-athletes are allowed to participate. That declaration came shortly before the Texas Senate passed a bill that would prevent public school students from participating in sports teams unless their sex assigned at birth aligns with the team’s designation. While that bill would only affect students in K-12 schools, two similar bills in the House would include colleges and universities in that mandate.
Hermes said Texas could lose out on as much as $1 billion dollars of economic impact if the NCAA canceled its events currently slated to take place in Texas — such as the 2024 College Football National Championship Game set for Houston and the 2023 Women’s Final Four in Dallas.
In February, a separate set of business leaders released a statement similarly opposing state legislation discriminating against LGBTQ individuals and stressing the difficulty of attracting a diverse workforce to areas. These bills can influence where businesses decide to “invest and grow,” the letter read. Among its 70 signees were Fort Worth’s American Airlines and AT&T, whose headquarters is in Dallas.
Texas Competes singled out 26 bills in the Texas Senate and House that they say would infringe on LGBTQ Texans’ rights, including the sports bans and restrictions on access to gender confirmation health care for transgender children.
“Businesses big and small and economies thrive on certainty,” said Jessica Shortall, managing director of Texas Competes. “What we’re faced with again this year is the uncertainty of whether discriminatory policies will rear their heads and cause all of the problems you’ve heard from our business speakers.”