At a discussion in Raleigh last week, local business owners warned the ban threatened the state’s economic success.
North Carolina’s 12-week abortion ban not only puts lives in danger, it threatens the state’s economic livelihood, small business owners and Democratic leaders warned last week.
The Republican-controlled legislature passed the bill into law in May, overriding Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto and ignoring the objections of doctors, who said the ban would increase the maternal mortality rate.
Polls show that a majority of North Carolinians objected to any changes to the previous law, which allowed abortions up to 20 weeks, and student advocacy groups have said they were reconsidering attending universities in the state.
That kind of widespread anger is bad for bottom lines, the small-business leaders said in a roundtable discussion on Friday at Trophy Brewery in Raleigh.
Sure, for the second year in a row, CNBC ranked North Carolina the best state in the nation for business, based in large part on its workforce. But that award isn’t made of gold, the business leaders said on Friday, it’s made of glass—and that glass was already showing cracks.
‘An Immediate Impact’
Pandemic-related workforce issues are still lingering for many small businesses. Lots of the jobs that went away when things shut down have not come back. And businesses now have to compete in a remote-work economy where employees can often live states away from their companies.
“It’s really hard to keep good employees,” said Pam Blondin, the owner of Deco, a homegoods and local crafts store in Raleigh. “And now lots of industries allow their staff to work remotely, meaning from anywhere. If people have a choice, they are going to choose the place that supports them.”
US Representatives Deborah Ross, who participated in the conversation, noted that the ban would only make it harder to recruit young workers to the state.
“We all know that the future of our economy is attracting young people to work here, and so much of the reason for the growth and the prosperity here is people who have come to this state for education and stayed,” Ross said. But now, she added, “we are seeing people make decisions to go to other states because of [SB 20], and that will have an immediate impact on our economy.”
‘On a Tightrope’
Many Republicans dismissed those warnings when they passed the bill, but sometimes financial effects take a while to show up, these small business owners said on Friday.
Kate Charland, Chief Operating Officer of Raleigh-based Carpenter Development, said that developers think in decades, pouring huge investments into projects that may take a long time to pay off.
If you spend tens of millions on a project with a 15-year window and people leave before the window’s even framed, that’s not a good business plan, she said.
“Something that happens today impacts the development of North Carolina 10, 15 years from now,” Charland said.
“Abortion gets separated from it because there’s such a long lead time to see it trickle out into our economy, so it’s easy to blame it on something else.”
And even a small short-term impact could prove devastating for some businesses.
“In nonprofits, in the food and beverage business, in retail – you’re talking about profit margins of 1 or 2 percent. Tiny little percentages,” Blondin said.
With COVID, she said, “We’ve been at no profit. It puts all of us on a tightrope.”
The economic impact from the abortion ban could cause a second wave of upheaval as businesses are still recovering from the pandemic, and produce a landscape far different from the one suggested by all those awards.
“There’s only one step now [between] staying open and having to go out of business.”
‘Come to Our Senses’
Blondin said these setbacks, one after the other, are frightening and erode people’s sense of community and their “confidence in any kind of secure future.”
“That is what will very rapidly erode the culture we have here in North Carolina,” she added. “People will choose to work for North Carolina companies like [the local software company] Red Hat, which was grown here, but do it from another state where they feel more protected and they feel more a part of a community that understands them.”
That’s already happening, Charland said.
“Red Hat has moved out,” she said, “because they are able to work from anywhere, which means they can move to other states that offer a better quality of life than what we are currently portraying.”
“There’s hundreds of thousands of square feet of empty office space downtown,” she said.
Ari Medoff, CEO of Arosa, an in-home health care provider for seniors, said his company has 300-400 employees.
“We are still reeling” from the workforce issues brought by the pandemic, he said.
Those issues, which include rising costs, make it harder to meet all their clients’ needs.
“This abortion ban will in the years ahead further impact our ability to deliver services,” he said. “I’m hopeful that we can come to our senses.”
Whether they were born here or moved here, the message from both business owners and elected officials was the same: the attack inherent in Senate Bill 20 is not the North Carolina they value.
“I’ve been working on abortion rights issues for more than three decades, as an attorney, as a state legislator, and now as a Congresswoman,” Rep. Ross said.
“This is probably the saddest time we’ve had in Carolina history.”
Rep. Nickel, who has an eight-year-old and a 10-year-old, echoed another sentiment common to the participants: They want their children to be free of the same fight their parents thought had already been decided.
“I want my daughter to have the same rights that her mother’s had for her entire life,” Nickel said. “Access to healthcare is a fundamental right. That’s what we’re talking about.”
Nickel said that he and Ross co-sponsored a legislative push to force a vote in the House on codifying abortion rights.
“I want to talk about hope,” he said, because he was confident the abortion issue would help Democrats retake control of the United States House in the 2024 elections.
For now, that’s the only way to make progress nationally, Ross said.
“We’re in divided government right now,” she said. “It won’t get worse in Congress because we have the Senate and the president to make sure it won’t. But the House is not going to make it better before the next election. There’s absolutely no way.”
She agreed with Nickel, though. There is hope.
“This election is going to have the most open seats … on the ballot in generations. Governor, lieutenant governor, the attorney general, labor commission, state treasurer who oversees the state health plan. Every single one of these positions affects healthcare, business and can be a voice for abortion rights,” she said.
“And that means that every vote is going to count.”