When PayPal (PYPL) CEO Dan Schulman announced his company would abandon plans to expand in North Carolina following that state's controversial anti-LGBT rights law, another state was waiting in the wings.
Vermont, which was the first state to allow civil unions for same-sex couples, contacted PayPal with its own proposition. "PayPal, heard you pulled expansion plans in NC. If you're looking for a tolerant state with a thriving tech hub, we'd welcome you in #VT," Governor Peter Shumlin tweeted to the company. He also sent a letter to Schulman with the invitation.
PayPal's decision may so far rate as the most visible economic damage to North Carolina following state lawmakers' passage of a law that requires transgender people to use bathrooms based on their gender at birth. Yet more economic damage may follow if the playbook follows what happened in Indiana, where a "religious freedom" law that permits discrimination against gay people resulted in the loss of as much as $60 million in revenue. Much of that lost revenue was due to conventions and events relocating outside of Indiana in response to the law.
PayPal said it will immediately start looking for a new location for its operations facility. "As we evaluate our options for expanding into new locations, we will continue to consider what is best for PayPal, its customers and its employees," the company said in a statement sent to CBS MoneyWatch. It added that it would reconsider North Carolina if it repeals the law.
North Carolina is already witnessing the loss of convention spending. The Academic Preservation Trust said last week it would move its spring meeting from North Carolina to Maryland, citing a desire to avoid a location that "promotes regressive intolerance, bias and unequal protection of the law." That decision cost the Sheraton Raleigh Hotel 70 room nights, according to North Carolina's Triangle Business Journal.
On top of that, the giant home-furnishings conference High Point Market has warned that "perhaps thousands of our customers will not attend Market this April." The event has an annual economic impact of $5.38 billion.
"The bigger revenue losses will be if, for instance, some of these sports organizations decide not to host big sporting events and other convention activities," said Gary Gates, an expert in LGBT economic and demographic issues.
The winners, Gates said, may be states that are either politically liberal or conservative, as long as they don't have discriminatory laws on the books. The economic impact could take a while to settle out, although politicians in states such as North Carolina and Mississippi are making a political bet that their anti-LGBT stances will pay off in the polls, he added.
"We are seeing examples of companies making these statements about not relocating or moving jobs out, but I do think it'll take a little while to see how sustained that response is," he added. "Corporate America has come out very strongly, especially since the marriage equality ruling, on LGBT rights, and there is clear evidence that they see these types of laws to make it more difficult to retain and attract talent."
Of course, there's also a backlash against the backlash, with some conservatives vowing to boycott PayPal for its decision. But those actions may not have as big an impact as supporters hope, given that 55 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage. For large corporations, the benefits of backing inclusionary policies and laws far outweigh the risks.
In North Carolina, the issue for businesses is "this idea that it's a law designed overtly to allow and, some would argue, promote discrimination," Gates said. "I don't think these businesses are asking them to pass workplace nondiscrimination laws. They are saying, 'Don't overtly create hostile climates.'"