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By Ben Quiggle
Statistics show that cities without ordinances protecting against LGBT discrimination could experience less economic development.
A study released this week by Indiana Competes, a coalition of nearly 425 Hoosier businesses and associations, shows that the overwhelming majority of tracked economic investment since April 2015 was in communities with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender protections in place.
Nearly all high-wage job commitments by businesses have been in communities that support nondiscrimination ordinances as well, according to the study.
“We can never take Indiana’s economic successes for granted,” said Peter Hanscom, Indiana Competes initiative director. “We saw last year that our state’s economic reputation is fragile, so we must take decisive action to ensure that no community is forced to answer the question of whether legal discrimination is allowed within their city limits.”
Communities with LGBT protections received 82.7 percent of new economic investment commitments, and more than 58 percent of new jobs announced in Indiana were created in those communities, according to figures released by the Indiana Economic Development Corp.
“I think it speaks loudly about the future of business,” said Chad Crabtree, an outspoken advocate of LGBT rights and member of the Elkhart Board of Public Works. “Businesses are doing business with communities that are doing the right thing.”
Elkhart, a city without LGBT protections, saw one economic development announcement during the study time period, according to the Indiana Economic Development Corp. ACC Climate Control in June announced it would invest $9.9 million to build and equip a new 135,000-square-foot facility at 22150 Challenger Drive in Elkhart and, in doing so, create 45 jobs.
Bristol, also without LGBT protections, saw two economic development announcements within the study time frame. Monogram Food Solutions LLC will invest $13 million and create 75 jobs, while Talon LLC plans to invest $13.5 million and create 120 jobs.
Hanscom said the study shows that the fight for LGBT protections is not just a civil rights issue; such protections, or lack thereof, also have an economic impact.
“We are beginning to show this study to lawmakers and having conversations with our members,” Hanscom said. “LGBT discrimination impacts the talent pool that these companies can draw from. Companies are not just competing with others in the state anymore. There is a national and global competition for great talent.”
Communities could see economic development slow if LGBT protections are not passed.
“Even cities that have protections could suffer,” Hanscom said. “Companies will look outside the city limits and see that some of their employees might not have protection against discrimination when they leave work. They are trying to bring in talent from all over the world, and they don’t want their civil rights based on their ZIP code.”
Former Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore proposed expanding LGBT protections in Elkhart last April, but the measure was withdrawn in the wake of staunch criticism. Current Mayor Tim Neese said he supports language against discrimination but that it shouldn’t single out one particular group of people.
“I want to make sure all people are treated fairly,” Neese said. “I don’t want to make reference to one particular, special class. I would like the state to step in and do something. That way, it is consistent statewide.”
Neese said he did not feel the lack of an LGBT anti-discrimination ordinance was hurting economic development in Elkhart.
Crabtree said he has lived in Elkhart his whole life and loves the community. He hopes something protecting the LGBT community gets passed soon at the state level.
“I think it would demonstrate how welcoming of a place Elkhart really is,” he said. “There is no harm in the state protecting a group of Hoosiers.”