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Viewpoint: Religious Freedom Bill's Veto Saves Georgia's Tech Community


A Letter by John Yates to the Honorable Governor Nathan Deal

Originally Appeared in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on March 28, 2016

Re-published with permission.

To the Honorable Nathan Deal --

Thank you for your statesmanship and leadership in support of Georgia’s technology community -- entrepreneurship has thrived and expanded during your tenure as the chief executive of our state. Our success in growing tech companies and attracting talent is now recognized nationally, and you deserve much credit for that success.

Nowhere is this more evident than in your veto of House Bill 757, the so-called Religious Liberty bill. The future of Georgia’s technology community, and its overall economy, was in your hands . . . or more accurately stated, in your pen. Thanks for your support and dedication to continue your legacy as a supporter of jobs, entrepreneurship and technology expansion in Georgia.

Our state’s positive climate for entrepreneurs was being adversely impacted by the passage of this extremely damaging legislation. It tarnished our otherwise favorable image as a welcoming hotbed of Southern hospitality – and opportunity – for innovative leading entrepreneurs.

We already face formidable competition from well-financed states providing significant benefits to lure our most talented graduates and fastest growing tech companies away from Georgia. If we expect our job growth rate to continue, we could not afford self-imposed obstacles that other states could assert as reflective of inhospitable environs for entrepreneurs.

Our state’s current growth, for which you have fought so hard, helps create the businesses and jobs that support the type of economy that allows Georgia entrepreneurs to thrive. A healthy self-sufficient economy reduces the need for expensive government services now and in the future. We can’t afford to compromise the future of our tech community and entrepreneurial expansion.

Whatever the pros and cons of the bill, there are certain realities that our technology community would have faced if it became law. These realities must remain in mind if proponents of the bill try to over-ride your veto, or re-introduce the bill in coming sessions:

*Talent attraction v. distraction– Georgia continues to be the recipient of inbound migration of top talent from California and other states. Thanks to our pro-business environment, which you helped create, all signs point to the expansion of this talent pool. We couldn’t afford to convert this attraction to a distraction, causing a “brain drain” of engineers and tech leaders to other states seen as more open and hospitable.

*Increased v. decreased investment– There is keen interest by leading venture capitalists in funding Georgia companies. Inflated valuations and overregulation in California and other states have afforded Georgia companies new opportunities to attract funds to invest significant capital in our state. Enactment of a law seen as unfriendly to the open atmosphere of entrepreneurship would trigger second thoughts by VCs about investing in Georgia, and competitive states would surely paint Georgia as an unfriendly place to grow a tech business.

*Strategic alliances v. solo businesses– Traditional companies have a keen interest in developing and strengthening close alliances with our technology businesses and leading universities. These relationships bring dollars to support research, promote job growth and employ Georgians throughout the state. Often, tech leaders from other parts of the world relocate to Georgia to join our state’s preeminent engineering schools. We must avoid the imposition of hurdles which can cause these companies to consider other locations perceived as friendlier, non-discriminatory environments.

*Global leader v. provincial follower– Multinational businesses recognize Georgia as a business-friendly location to start innovation centers, incubators and accelerators. Many still recall the motto of Atlanta as “the city too busy to hate” -- a community that extends southern hospitality to all comers. The opportunity to enhance this reality is significant given the groundwork laid by you and our business-friendly community. We would run a serious risk of tarnishing this good name by conveying the perception that we are selective in how we extend our hospitality and friendship.

The technology community is appreciative of the support provided by you as our governor in creating a hospitable and friendly environment for tech companies, investors and talented leaders. We are grateful for your veto of this legislation, which would have run counter to enhancing this legacy and the economic future of our state’s tech community. We understand this was a difficult decision and stand in support of your leadership.

Respectfully, John Yates

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