Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard has argued that the Carmel City Council needs to pass a new anti-discrimination ordinance – not because the city has a problem with discrimination – but because of perception.
Brainard said national coverage from the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act has made Indiana appear to be a place that’s unfriendly to gay and lesbian groups, which could make it harder to attract new business and employees to the Hoosier State.
“It’s absolutely critical for the ordinance to be passed to continue to grow our cities and attract jobs,” he said. “All major businesses I’ve talked with have urged that we pass the unamended version.”
Groups that oppose the ordinance, such as the Tea Party group the Constitutional Patriots, argue that the law isn’t about economic development at all and wonder which Carmel businesses have actually threatened to leave because of RFRA fallout.
“There is no econometric study that supports the point of view that the economy will be affected if this ordinance isn’t passed. It’s just politics,” said Sue Lile, member of the Constitutional Patriots, speaking on her own behalf.
Jim Decamp, a local conservative activist, said using economic development is just a ploy to get it passed.
“Instead of accepting the premise that their constituents are bigots, Indiana politicians at all levels need to stand up and say, ‘The people of Indiana, my constituents, are fine and decent people. I will not allow you to smear their good name,’” he said.
But experts who work in business development for the city and region strongly disagree.
Tim Monger, executive director for the Hamilton County Economic Development Corp., regularly meets with site selectors to promote the county as a place for corporate headquarters, factories and other businesses to relocate. He said RFRA often comes up unprompted.
Mo Merhoff, president of OneZone, which includes the Carmel Chamber of Commerce, said it’s generally the position of local business owners that they are concerned about perception.
“Our position is very much a business one,” she said. “There were some perceptions that Indiana is not a welcoming state. Anything that would impede economic opportunities is something we want to avoid. If I’m a company and I’m looking to relocate, then there are things I’m going to be looking for in that community. If the perception is that moving to Indiana will affect your ability to recruit the best and brightest people then that will affect a business owner’s decision. It’s that image that we want to dispel.”