Events at the Statehouse last week dealt a major blow to the state’s efforts to compete as a destination for talent, investment, and business opportunities.
Amid the furor over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, we were otherwise pleased to see our top priority, Indiana’s Regional Cities Initiative, move forward with unanimous support from the Senate Appropriation Committee.
The Indy Chamber’s Mark Fisher testified on the need to invest in quality of life as an economic development strategy, addressing the top priority for growing companies everywhere: the availability of a skilled workforce. HB 1403 provides for matching grants from the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) to support cooperative regional efforts to attract the educated workers who increasingly gravitate towards dynamic metropolitan areas. While the Appropriations Committee endorsed the Regional Cities structure, it deferred decisions on funding – the budget process will determine if the Senate will fully support Regional Cities at $84 million as we have advocated.
The progress on Regional Cities, however, was drowned out by the signing of SB 101, or RFRA. The signing of RFRA was met with an immediate and intense backlash. A growing chorus of employers, including Salesforce and other high-tech firms, expressed disapproval; many announced their intention to curtail investment and engagement with the state. The move also sent shockwaves through the region’s $4.4 billion hospitality industry, as GenCon and other major events voiced concerns about exposing their attendees to discrimination. The NCAA followed suit, putting the organization’s commitment to hosting future championships in Indiana in doubt.
The Indy Chamber has been consistent in our opposition to RFRA, as a divisive measure that is not needed to protect religious freedom. It only hinders our ability to attract talented people and the business opportunities that follow them, setting back our economic development efforts and tarnishing our reputation.
But as always, the Indianapolis community is rallying to do the right thing, for our neighbors, our visitors and our economy. Along with the Indy Chamber and our business community, Mayor Ballard and other local officials have spoken out strongly against RFRA. Grassroots initiatives like openforservice.org have sprung up to allow Indy employers to show their inclusiveness – we encourage Indy Chamber members to explore this program.
This aggressive reaction against RFRA caused GenCon to recommit to Indianapolis, and we’re working with a growing number of civic and industry partners to assuage the concerns of others. We’re exploring options to strengthen our Human Rights Ordinance to protect non-discrimination policies for people who live and visit Indianapolis, as well as possible remedies in the General Assembly to limit the damage. Stay tuned for more updates on our progress.