For Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the political furor over Indiana’s controversial “religious freedom” law was an opportunity to turn the tables on the Hoosier state, which has used Illinois’ pension crisis and higher taxes as selling points to poach businesses here.
Emanuel said Monday he sent a letter to “a couple hundred major” Indiana businesses, calling Chicago a “welcoming place” and warning that the Indiana law would subject gay employees to a “new discrimination” that would make it more difficult for Indiana companies to recruit the most talented employees.
“Indiana today is saying, ‘You’re not welcome,’,” Emanuel told reporters after a Navy Pier graduation ceremony Monday for 111 police recruits. “Here in Chicago, we are, two years in a row, the No. 1 city for corporate relocation, [and the] No. 1 city for job creation. And I said to any company based in Indiana, ‘If you have plans for relocation, if you have plans for expansion, this is a city that welcomes diversity.’”
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As well-known businesses and organizations nationwide, including Angie’s List, Salesforce, a gaming convention and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), announced they could change their venues or cancel expansions in Indiana due to the legislation, Indiana officials sought Monday to “clarify” the law’s implications.
Indiana’s Republican leaders said Monday they would add language to the law, signed last week by GOP Gov. Mike Pence, to specify that it doesn’t allow discrimination against gays and lesbians. Hoosier Democratic leaders said the law should be repealed, The Associated Press reported.
Chicago companies that do business in Indiana have started voicing their concern, said Gerardo Rodriguez, executive director of the Chicago Area Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce in the Boystown neighborhood.
“There is a natural fear and general concern among the LGBT small-business community, which already faces many social challenges, that they may lose contracts with their vendors in Indiana due to this blind discrimination,” Rodriguez said. The former business adviser at the Chicago Urban League and Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is credited with helping companies obtain more than $100 million in contracts during his tenures at those organizations.
“We say, ‘It’s discrimination, and it’s plain bad business,’” Rodriguez said Monday. “Our chamber will do everything we can and in our power to ensure we get our voice heard. We also are ready to assist any individual or small business in Indiana that wants to come and use our services. We can help them grow their small businesses.”