Posted Apr. 3, 2017 at 2:12 p.m.

Will HB2 repeal help with biz? WedPics' CEO, others aren't so sure

Published: 2017-04-03 14:12:10
Updated: 2017-04-03 14:12:10


Justin Miller, the founder and CEO of Raleigh startup WedPics who was among numerous tech executives opposed to House Bill 2, says the repeal signed into law last week doesn't fully erase the problem. Business still may be hurt by a "watered down" solution.

While Gov. Roy Cooper, top lawmakers and numerous corporate executives say the repeal puts North Carolina back on track for business recruitment, many others such as Miller say the replacement legislation won't be enough to lure new companies or workers to the state.

Cooper pressed for months for a repeal to House Bill 2, the year-old state law that limited LGBT rights and transgender access to public bathrooms, saying it was damaging North Carolina's reputation and turning off business owners looking to move or expand. PayPal and Deutsche Bank were among the companies that scrapped plans to open operations in the state following the law's passage.

Other tech firms such as Red Hat and IBM also took stands against the bill.

Miller said Wedpics, which produces a popular wedding photo sharing app, and dozens of startups in the HQ Raleigh incubator lost venture capital and customers and had a hard time recruiting workers because of House Bill 2. He said he doubts the law's replacement will lift the perceived cloud over his small business or others statewide.

"It doesn't really do us any good from a business standpoint. We still have this problem that exists," Miller said. "It's a more watered down problem, but it still exists there. So, it's very disappointing what transpired."

Brooks Bell of the company that operates by that name and her husband Jesse Lipson, an entrepreneur who led operations for Citrix in Raleigh, also spoke out against the bill.

The law that repealed House Bill 2 no longer dictates that people use bathrooms in schools and government buildings based on their birth gender, but it continues to block any nondiscrimination ordinances that protect gay and transgender people until December 2020.

"I don't think that anything has truthfully been resolved. I think we've kind of side stepped the issue to a degree," Miller said.

Cooper acknowledged Thursday shortly after signing the new legislation that it was "not my preferred solution," but he said he had to do something to lure back the NCAA, the Atlantic Coast Conference and businesses.

"We're in the recruiting mode with some of them. Some of them will be announced very soon, and they'll tell you they wouldn't have done it without this legislation," Cooper said.

Sources say that includes an unidentified company eyeing Wake County with more than 1,000 high-paying jobs.

On Friday, the ACC, which had shifted the conference's recent women's basketball tournament to South Carolina because of House Bill 2, said it would once again consider North Carolina sites to host events because of the repeal.

NCAA officials, who moved several championships out of North Carolina last year and threatened to blackball the state as an event host as long as House Bill 2 remained on the books, said they would decide next week whether the state had returned to its good graces.

Chamber letter

Lew Ebert, president and chief executive of the North Carolina Chamber, sent a letter to ACC Commissioner John Swofford on Friday outlining the changes the repeal put in place, including allowing event venues and local governments to contract with organizations that require nondiscrimination.

"All of these restrictions, which have been dubbed inappropriate by your organization, others and the statewide business community, have been removed from the North Carolina statute by passage of House Bill 142. This development makes our state’s reputation whole again," Ebert wrote. "The path taken by our state’s leaders (Thursday) is more consistent with the values and reputation of North Carolina than what you have been reading for the last year."

But Chris Sgro, executive director of LGBT advocacy group Equality North Carolina, said he doesn't think the NCAA will come back and many businesses will continue to look elsewhere for new operations.

"The underlying reason why businesses left in the first place is because North Carolina passed a law that discriminated. Again (Thursday), North Carolina passed a law that discriminated against LGBT people," Sgro said.

"The NCAA, everything they've said says that this (new) law will not bring them back. PayPal, I don't think, comes back," he said. "The reputation of North Carolina was not fixed."

Cooper said he plans to continue working for a repeal of the moratorium on nondiscrimination ordinances, but he said that would be unlikely as long as Republicans control the legislature.

Miller said he and his company also will continue working for a repeal.

"Being more vocal, keeping this at the forefront of our attention, I think, is critical," he said.

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