- The Washington Times - Monday, March 20, 2017

North Carolina may have lost out on the NCAA championships, the NBA All-Star Game and Bruce Springsteen thanks to its hotly contested transgender bathroom law, but the state’s economy didn’t miss a beat.

Economic indicators released for 2016 show that the boycott has failed to derail North Carolina as a regional and national powerhouse, despite the loss of high-profile performances and sporting events in response to House Bill 2, signed March 23 by then-Gov. Pat McCrory.

Tourism has thrived: Hotel occupancy, room rates and demand for rooms set records in 2016, according to the year-end hotel lodging report issued last week by VisitNC, part of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina.

Meanwhile, North Carolina ranked fourth in the nation for attracting and expanding businesses with the arrival of 289 major projects, and seventh in projects per capita — the same as in 2015, according to Site Selection magazine, which released its 2016 rankings in the March edition.

North Carolina finished first for drawing corporate facilities in the eight-state South Atlantic region, said Site Selection, which uses figures tracked by the Conway Projects Database.

And in November, both Forbes and Site Selection magazine ranked North Carolina the No. 2 state for business climate.

Also unscathed was the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate, which registered at 5.3 percent in January 2016 and 5.3 percent in January 2017, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The figures released almost exactly a year after the bill’s passage appear to fly in the face of predictions of economic doom made by opponents of HB2. The Center for American Progress estimated in April that the state would lose more than $567 million in private-sector economic activity through 2018.

North Carolina is showing economic resilience as legislators in 16 other states consider bills to regulate intimate public facilities, including restrooms, showers and locker rooms, on the basis of biological sex, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

North Carolina Lieutenant Gov. Dan Forest told Texas lawmakers this month that the economic effect of the boycott in his state was “less than one-tenth of 1 percent” of the state’s annual gross domestic product.

“Suffice it to say, our economy is doing well,” said Mr. Forest, a Republican. “Don’t be fooled by the media; this issue is not about the economy. This issue is about privacy, safety and security in the most vulnerable places we go. This is about doing the right thing. And I will never trade the privacy, safety and security of a woman or a child for a basketball ticket, and neither should you.”

Taking issue with that assessment was Chris Sgro, a former Democratic state legislator who now heads EqualityNC. He said the figures fail to take into account what would have happened without the so-called bathroom bill.

“It is a universally agreed-upon fact at this point that HB2 is hurting the state of North Carolina economically,” Mr. Sgro said.

What to do with HB2 continues to bedevil North Carolina lawmakers. Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat who defeated Mr. McCrory in the November election, campaigned on repealing the law but has run into opposition from the Republican-controlled General Assembly.

“We have vibrant cities like where I live in Greensboro with innovative leaders like my mayor that are going to continue to work to attract, recruit and retain business,” Mr. Cooper said. “At the same time, it is incredibly clear to everybody that HB2 has done a detriment to the state of North Carolina. We would be doing drastically better economically if this discriminatory law wasn’t on the books.”

A bipartisan compromise bill introduced Feb. 22 would repeal the measure, thus allowing localities to pass ordinances banning discrimination based on gender identity in public restrooms, but would also make it easier for voters to challenge such measures via ballot referendum.

A number of pro-business groups support HB186, including several local chambers of commerce, the North Carolina Realtors Association, the North Carolina Travel Industry Association, and the North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association.

Opposed are EqualityNC and the NC Values Coalition, albeit for different reasons. The coalition’s Tami Fitzgerald said in a statement that it “does nothing to stop cities from passing the same unlawful, coercive ordinances that started this debate in Charlotte and leaves the state without a policy on privacy in bathrooms.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Sgro said the measure “forces civil rights on the ballot for a public vote, which we know is wrong.”

North Carolina showed strong economic indicators for 2016 despite a rash of concert cancellations by Mr. Springsteen, Ringo Starr, Pearl Jam, Boston, Maroon 5 and Cirque de Soleil.

The NBA moved its All-Star Game from Charlotte to New Orleans. The game was held Feb. 19 and would not have been reflected in VisitNC’s 2016 hotel report.

The NCAA relocated seven championships, including two — the Division I women’s soccer championship and the Division III men’s and women’s soccer championship — that were held in December. The other five were slated for this year.

Even so, hotel and motel occupancy increased last year by 3.4 percent over 2015, and “each month of 2016 experienced the highest occupancy on record,” according to the lodging report.

The average room rate of $98.88 per night represented a 3.6 percent jump from 2015, which also set a state record and exceeded the national increase of 3.1 percent.

The strong hotel performance “indicates more people are visiting North Carolina and hotel operators are bringing in more revenues,” despite the “predictions of doom-and-gloom for North Carolina,” said the conservative advocacy group 2ndVote.

Given the state’s booming tourism industry, Mr. Forest said, the sports leagues may have hurt themselves more than North Carolina. A week before the game was played, the NBA had “the lowest ticket sales” in All-Star Game history, he said.

“So they lost money comparatively to what they would have made in Charlotte,” Mr. Forest told Texas legislators. “The other one was the ACC championship football game that’s been hosted year over year. They moved it to Orlando and had the lowest attendance in history, again losing money.”

While PayPal canceled plans last year to construct an operations center in Charlotte that would have employed about 400, other companies have stepped in. Already this year, Moen, Corning and Alevo have announced in-state expansions, bringing in about 650 jobs over the next several years, according to the partnership.

The anti-North Carolina protest may have been overshadowed by the plethora of economic protests organized by left-wing groups such as Grab Your Wallet aimed at President Trump.

Governing magazine concluded in April that whether such boycotts work is ambiguous.

“Yes, boycotts work if the main point is delivering a message,” said Governing. “No, boycotts don’t work if the goal is inflicting economic damage, though some state industries are more vulnerable than others.”

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