Raleigh visitors bureau says HB2 is affecting Wake economy

Being Transgender in North Carolina: Reaction to HB2

VIDEO: The News & Observer talks with transgender residents of the Triangle area of NC about their experiences and the impact of HB2 on their lives.
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VIDEO: The News & Observer talks with transgender residents of the Triangle area of NC about their experiences and the impact of HB2 on their lives.

A report released by Wake County’s leading tourism agency on Monday says that the county has lost more than $700,000 in response to the controversial House Bill 2 – and could lose millions more.

The Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau reported that four groups have canceled plans to hold events in Wake because of HB2, which some say discriminates against the transgender community, gays and lesbians.

The International Association of Security and Investigative Regulators, Johnstone Supply, the Matria Tech Leadership Conference and the N.C. State Library Conference cited HB2 in canceling their events, which were mostly scheduled at hotels in downtown Raleigh. In addition, the GIS-T Symposium, a gathering of state transportation officials, cut the number of attendees expected at its conference because of HB2. Combined, the bureau reports that Wake has lost out on an estimated $732,000 in economic benefits.

“We just felt that it’s not in the best interest of our membership to go someplace that’s not inclusive,” said Janet Tipton, spokeswoman for Oregon-based Johnstone Supply, which considered bringing 300 people.

The visitors bureau reported that 16 other groups, the names of which it didn’t disclose, also are reconsidering plans to hold events in Wake County. The groups would bring a combined 73,500 people to the area and infuse an estimated $24 million into the local economy, the report says.

The biggest: an undisclosed sports tournament that would bring an estimated 51,000 people and $4.5 million in spending to the area each year. Raleigh was expected to be in the bidding process for a four-year contract, the bureau said, but event organizers are now “monitoring the situation” with HB2.

VIDEO: The News & Observer talks with transgender residents of the Triangle area of NC about their experiences and the impact of HB2 on their lives.

‘Difficult to track’

“HB2 is certainly beginning to have a negative impact on the convention and sports business in Wake County,” said Dennis Edwards, president and CEO of the bureau, in a statement he released while out of town. He emailed the figures detailing the impact of HB2 on Monday to the Wake County commissioners.

HB2 is certainly beginning to have a negative impact on the convention and sports business in Wake County.

Dennis Edwards, president and CEO of the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau

“What’s difficult to track is how many groups we are not even able to bid on because meeting planners and boards of associations are taking us off their list of consideration,” Edwards said.

Supporters say the law protects women and children from potential abuse, while opponents say it is insensitive to the needs and rights of transgender people and other minorities. Apart from requiring people to use bathrooms corresponding with their birth gender, the bill also prevents local governments from adopting their own laws that punish discrimination.

The Republican-led state General Assembly adopted the new law after Charlotte passed its own law that, among other things, allowed transgender people to use the bathroom meant for the gender they identify with.

Leaders in Raleigh and Wake County have issued statements in recent weeks saying they support the transgender community and oppose discrimination, and some commissioners on Monday said they’re becoming even more concerned about the bill’s effects.

“Businesses are serious about their commitment to diversity and inclusion, and we’re seeing that through the visitors bureau,” Wake commissioner Matt Calabria said. “We’re seeing economic and social impacts (of HB2) that are tarnishing our national brand.”

Meanwhile, two of Wake’s state representatives – among the most powerful legislators – say there’s no reason to worry.

“In many instances when you have dates open up, you have other groups interested in coming in and taking those dates,” said Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Cary Republican.

Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam, an Apex Republican, echoed Dollar, arguing that there’s still time for the county to make up what was lost. Johnstone Supply, for instance, didn’t expect to hold its meeting until 2018.

“If you went to court and tried to get lost claims on that, you’d be thrown out,” Stam said.

Stam, who said he read the report Monday afternoon, said it seemed like many of the event organizers were misinformed about how the new law compares with those in other states. “If they’re not gonna go here, there are 31 other states and 10,000 other cities that have the same type of policies that we just passed,” he said.

Wake not alone

The bureau’s report comes less than a week after the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority reported that four groups had canceled plans to hold events in Charlotte and nine had decided to take their business elsewhere in response to HB2. Nearly 30 groups, including the National Basketball Association, are on the authority’s list of businesses concerned about the new legislation.

City and state governments are banning travel to North Carolina in reaction to the new law, which Edwards said is limiting the number of potential visitors.

The bureau’s report included excerpts of emails it says it received from scheduled attendees. The organizer of one national association said his group will cancel its June 2017 event plans by July if “a satisfactory resolution is not made.” That specific group would bring 1,500 people and generate $890,000 in local spending, the bureau reported.

“We are extremely concerned about North Carolina’s state legislation passing of HB2 and are considering cancellation of our 2017 Annual Conference in Raleigh, June 25-29. Over 70% of our attendees work as public servants in state or local government agencies, and with the passing of this bill, many of our states’ leadership have been informed they are restricted from traveling to North Carolina,” the organizer wrote to Edwards, according to the bureau.

“This would significantly impact our attendance and have a negative economic effect to our organization,” the organizer continued. “Furthermore, this policy and the political climate in North Carolina is discriminatory and cannot provide a hospitable environment for the inclusive nature of our membership and attendees. While the legislation may be beyond either of our control, we strongly urge you to contact state and local leaders to find a resolution and overturn this bill.”

Paul A. Specht: 919-829-4870, @AndySpecht

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