Opinion: How not to deliver Amazon

Georgia’s leaders shouldn’t let politicking over divisive social issues potentially act against our sizable strengths in quest for the retailer’s next headquarters.

Don’t screw this up. Consider that blunt shorthand for saying that pragmatism should trump election-year politics when it comes to Georgia’s run for Amazon’s second headquarters.

The under-wraps bid by Georgia and metro Atlanta to win the retailer’s “HQ2” no doubt contains a sizable package of monetary and other economic incentives that, in a spreadsheet sense, should be very appealing to Amazon. For overall business environment, Georgia’s low-tax conservatism is widely known and, we’d expect, quite competitive and hard to beat.

That seeming economic advantage must not be damaged by some social and public policy drives that might well be off-putting to Amazon — or other business powerhouses, for that matter.

Recent among these is the ill-advised political stunt that saw the Georgia Senate stealthily adopt a resolution excoriating the NFL over the national anthem kneeling controversy. It came barely 72 hours before kickoff in last week’s Super Bowl and a year before the 2019 football championship comes to Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Admittedly, the Senate a week later passed another, bipartisan resolution praising the coming of Super Bowl 2019 and the NFL’s role in making that happen. Nice peace offering that; we can only hope it mitigates damage the earlier broadside may have wrought.

As reported in the AJC around the first NFL-targeted action, “the swift vote seemed to catch many in and outside the Senate off guard. Several Democrats said immediately after the vote that they didn’t realize the chamber had just adopted the resolution, while lobbyists said they were stunned the measure was so quickly adopted and without debate.”

Stunning too, in our view, were the first four words of the earlier resolution: “Denouncing the National Football League.” For sure, the kneeling movement stirs strong feelings on both sides. That’s to be expected in a diverse republic. Still, this campaign-boosting stunt by Georgia’s would-be upper chamber did a disservice to both the state’s business environment and a not-inconsiderable band of veterans who support the right of NFL players to kneel. We hope Amazon doesn’t weigh red-meat politicking too heavily on the negatives side of its Georgia site-selection ledger.

>> Opinion: What Amazon may be seeking for HQ2

Georgia lawmakers should know better. Among others, the state’s business community has told them so, and rightly pointed to the tangible, costly downside that battered other states which have mulishly passed legislation widely seen as discriminatory. Think North Carolina and Indiana, among others.

There is hope that, despite the noise, Georgia and its leaders will in the end hew to a correct course. After a long, intramural battle between Georgia’s House and Senate, legislation updating the state’s adoption laws awaits the governor’s signature. Of note here, divisive religious liberty language aimed at same-sex couples was wisely stripped from the final product.

The list of risky legislation has other red-letter entries. There’s an English-only measure afoot, requiring all state government business to be conducted in English. We doubt that will find favor with international businesses that have flocked here, and the legal foreign-born workers they and others employ.

And the ongoing quest to get a state religious liberty bill passed remains a crusade in some quarters of the Gold Dome, potential damage to business climate and prosperity notwithstanding.

The above examples, and others, can sketch an unflattering image of a region that’s unwelcoming to outsiders. With the likes of 50,000 jobs paying an average total compensation of $100,000 annually at stake, we can’t afford to have Amazon executives inaccurately view Georgia, and Atlanta, as being stuck in a 1970s past exemplified by bad movies that ridicule the South, its people and leaders as backward, if not bigoted.

We believe Georgia’s prospects are bolstered by practical leaders, including Gov. Nathan Deal, who’ve indicated a preference for plain progress and prosperity over damaging aspects of partisan politics. A steady hand by Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, has at times also helped keep this state – and its economy – on a productive path.

Deal vetoed religious liberty legislation in 2016. Now in his final year of office, Deal, when asked about the possible effect of such legislation rising again, said in the AJC Jan. 25 that, “It’s one of those things that presents a cloud over the minds of people who might otherwise be looking at our state. It’s unfortunate, but sometimes those are the realities that we all have to deal with,” he said. “I don’t see any reason at this point in time to create any potential impediments to job opportunities for our children and job opportunities for their children.”

In its request for HQ2 proposals, Amazon made clear that, yes, business environment was important. The retailer wrote as well that low taxes and regulation were not deal-winners by themselves. Quality of life, adequate transportation systems — including robust transit options — sound schools and a well-educated workforce are also high on Amazon’s list of needs.

With billions of dollars at stake and 19 other regions aggressively touting their considerable strengths, Georgia cannot afford to let partisan political grandstanding hobble us in this great national race. Our political leaders owe us better than that.

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