Postmates, a food delivery company that came to Nashville in 2015 and employs 650 people, is considering expansion in Tennessee. One factor working against those plans is the prospect of more anti-LGBT legislation from state lawmakers and Gov. Bill Lee, said Postmates training director Donna Drehmann.
“Postmates continues to be alarmed by the Lee administration’s anti-LGBTQ agenda, particularly as we consider expanding our presence in the Volunteer State,” Drehmann said at the Cordell Hull state office building Wednesday. “State leaders cannot and will not be able to expect companies like ours to power its economic engine while supporting legislation that undermines our ability to feel welcome in this state to include all families and all workers unless they commit to a new pathway.”
Postmates is among 35 major companies — including Amazon, Warner Music Group, Dell, Nissan and Nashville Soccer Club — and 107 small businesses in Tennessee speaking out against a new Tennessee law allowing adoption agencies to deny LGBT couples based on the agencies’ religious beliefs, and any other legislation considered anti-LGBT expected to be filed this year. They argue such bills conflict with their values, damage the state’s reputation, hurt tourism and hamper employee recruitment, all of which harm the economy.
Many of the same companies made similar statements last year, when the adoption bill had been proposed, along with a defense of marriage bill and other legislation aimed at LGBT individuals. This year, the group of companies has grown and they have become more vocal in their opposition. Drehmann described the adoption bill as an example of “flagrant hatred” that will not be tolerated by Postmates.
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Tennessee has been able to recruit several major companies, many from the more progressive state of California, in the past year amid the prospect of such laws. AllianceBernstein, a company that criticized anti-LGBT legislation last year and has maintained its opposition, announced 200 new jobs in Nashville in January on the same day the Senate approved the adoption bill.
While the prospect of legislation does not seem to have slowed down economic momentum so far, enacted laws will, warned Joe Woolley, CEO of the Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce. The adoption bill is a “wake-up call” to businesses that related discriminatory bills could indeed pass, and lawmakers need to know that there will be business repercussions, he said.
“Each state is seeing who can step in front of the bus before they get hit,” Woolley said. “Tennessee has the most to lose than any other state out there … We again plead with the governor and legislators, don’t step in front of that bus.”
Two bills filed last year that could impact LGBT individuals could be pushed forward this year, similar to the adoption law, and Woolley said he expects additional legislation to be filed.
Woolley said companies considering relocating or expanding in Tennessee have voiced their concerns to Lee’s administration. Tennessee economic development officials in the past have disagreed that such conversations come up. A recent Associated Press story revealed several companies urged Gov. Lee to prevent the adoption law. The issue has come up between Lee and officials at Oracle, a company the state is reportedly seeking to recruit, Woolley said.
For Ian Ayre, CEO of Nashville SC, a commitment that the new soccer team would serve all Nashvillians and be an inclusive organization was part of the appeal to move to Music City from Liverpool. A new Tennessee law that allows adoption agencies to discriminate against LGBT couples does not align with that ethos, he said.
“Part of the great thing about doing this in Nashville — not just for me, but the team —is it is that vibrant, exciting city that is on the rise. You start introducing this type of legislation, it turns people’s heads in the other direction,” Ayre said. “When you are recruiting, people will make choices based on that. Not just people faced with those issues, but people who believe in an open and welcoming society might make the choice, ‘Well you know, I’m not sure Tennessee is the type of state I want to live in.'”
Matt Signore, chief operating officer of Warner Music Group, said job candidates ask questions about living in Tennessee and whether it is inclusive. Warner’s ability to attract strong employees affects the company’s trajectory.
“The continued success and growth of our business here depends on our ability to recruit and retain a best-in-class, diverse workforce,” Signore said. “These bills send a clear message, that LGBT artists, songwriters and employees are not welcome.”
Andrea Arnold, who leads communications for the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp., said the city has not lost convention business to date, but the corporation has fielded questions about the adoption law from groups nationwide considering Nashville for an event.
“They evaluate those cities’ proposals based on places where they know they will get high attendance and places they know their constituency is going to feel warm and welcome,” Arnold said.
Reach Jamie McGee at 615-259-8071 and on Twitter @JamieMcGee_