Commentary: What is Texas lacking for Amazon HQ? Honor for LGBT rights

Amazon announced that it is seeking a second North American headquarters with up to $5 billion investment in facilities and 50,000 jobs at an average pay of $100,000 a year. This will be a major economic boon for both the state and city that lands the deal. Clearly, it would be among the largest corporate expansions in Texas history not related to energy. Not surprisingly, several Texas communities have enthusiastically jumped into this fierce nationwide bidding war.

No doubt, this presents a great opportunity for Texas as it would dramatically help our recovery from this year’s hurricane disaster.

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The good news for Texas as we compete for Amazon’s site selection is our state’s premier reputation for great universities, commerce and quality of life. Just this past month, Texas again ranked No. 1 in the U.S. for best business climate, according to a new survey of corporate executives by International Economic Development.

Amazon already has a significant footprint in Texas with 20,000 fulfillment center jobs meeting the needs of Texas families and consumers, as well as software, cloud computing, IT development and corporate offices already existing across our great state. Amazon has also just acquired Texas-based Whole Foods.

But there is also news that could be facing our state in this fierce competition: Specifically, among the key requirements on Amazon’s detailed wish list for its second headquarters is to avoid states with discrimination policies. This includes Amazon’s opposition to open discrimination like the recently attempted Texas so-called “bathroom bill,” which fortunately did not pass in either this year’s regular or special sessions of the Texas Legislature.

Amazon is not alone in opposition and condemnation of the purposeful discrimination hidden behind the controversial Texas bathroom bill. Others who strongly opposed include our state’s top corporate leaders, the Texas Association of Business, college and professional sports organizations, Texas’ local tourism industry and even Gov. Greg Abbott’s former campaign treasurer.

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Since Texas already has some of the nation’s strongest laws and toughest criminal penalties against sexual predators inside and outside bathrooms, those in opposition duly noted that f such legislation fails to add to existing protections.

In the eyes of Amazon and others, the proposed bathroom bill boils down to being at its core nothing more than a clever manipulation of fear to smokescreen an attempt at justifying discrimination.

Texas knows about the harsh economic backlash suffered in other states which have attempted similar legislation. Both Indiana and North Carolina had to back-peddle after suffering lost jobs and tourism dollars because they passed similar discriminatory legislation.

So, will Amazon seriously consider any of the Texas cities competing for Amazon’s second headquarters? Probably not, unless Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick take the bathroom bill off the table for future legislative sessions. Even in a state as large as Texas, we can’t continue to hide this controversial elephant in the room.

The clock is ticking — and you can bet your bottom dollar that other states are watching our Texas leaders and rooting for their silence.

In truth, we are neither a state that takes pride in discrimination, nor do we have a “bathroom problem.” In this regard, it could arguably be the largest missed economic development opportunity of the 21st century for Texas if we lose a chance on these 50,000 jobs and $5 billion in investment if Amazon refuses to consider the Lone Star State because of the uncertainty on where we stand politically on this issue.

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But if Amazon does go outside of Texas with its location for a second headquarters — and if our state continues to suffer similar economic loses over the “bathroom bill”— how many more billions in economic development, lost jobs, lost sporting and entertainment events, and lost tourism dollars will Texas need to lose before the reality of common sense prevails?

Cook, a Corsicana Republican, is chairman of the Texas House State Affairs Committee.

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