Louisiana's restrictive new abortion law has put local businesses and the groups that try to attract investment to New Orleans on edge, raising fears about a backlash from companies, workers and visitors who may see the law as a major blemish when deciding whether to move to or spend money in the city.
On Thursday, Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the so-called fetal heartbeat bill, a controversial measure that would ban abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy and that makes no exceptions for victims of rape and incest.
With a backlash brewing against out-of-state investment in Georgia, Alabama and other states that have passed similar laws, local officials fear that the law could make it harder to attract companies to Louisiana. And business owners, particularly those in the tech sector, say New Orleans' image could suffer among the younger workers they hope to attract, making it harder to hire good people.
Major media companies that film movies or TV shows in Louisiana, including NBCUniversal, have already voiced concerns about future productions in Louisiana. And officials at New Orleans' Ernest N. Morial Convention Center are keeping watch on how the law may impact the city's convention business.
Michael Hecht, President and CEO of GNO Inc., spends his days promoting New Orleans to major employers who are comparing New Orleans to other cities like Nashville or Austin as they look to expand operations. He said the region could lose out on future deals because of the new law.
"This legislation has the potential to impact economic development in Greater New Orleans, as we have heard concerns from companies both considering our region and those already located here," Hecht said.
The law, passed by a Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by a Democratic, anti-abortion governor, will almost certainly be challenged in court. It also wouldn't come into effect unless a similar Mississippi law survives legal challenges.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, has signed one of the nation’s most restrictive abortion bills into law, a measure that would ban…
Nevertheless, the main worry for tech executives is the damage to the state's image in the eyes of potential recruits, who tend to be younger and more liberal, according to Matt Findley, who runs a video-game production unit in New Orleans.
"In the four years I've been here, I've worked very hard with everyone at GNO and (the state agency Louisiana Economic Development) to help grow the tech sector and make this a tech hub of the South; and now, to be honest, I’m kind of embarrassed," said Findley, New Orleans president of inXile Entertainment, which is based in Newport Beach, California, and owned by Microsoft Corp. "I don't need any more roadblocks and challenges when I'm trying to bring people here to work with us."
InXile employs 30 people at its studios on Oak Street in the Carrollton neighborhood. Findley is worried some people will decide to leave.
"The type of people we hire are very progressive," Findley said. "They are choosing to work here because they like this city, but to hear our legislators are trying to undo laws from 50 years ago ... Do I blame our female employees for saying at some point, 'Screw this, I'm taking a job in California'?"
Another tech firm, the Boston-based gamemaker The Molasses Flood, was being wooed by development agencies to come to the city. That could now be in doubt.
"I've frequently thought about opening a second office in New Orleans, but there's no way I'd live in a place that supports this, nor ask it of those on my team," the company's founder, Forrest Dowling, tweeted after the law passed.
Forrest Dowling, founder of Boston-based gaming outfit The Molasses Flood, has investigated opening an office in New Orleans but says the rest…
In an interview, Dowling said that the people he tries to recruit want to live "in a place that is steeped in culture like New Orleans," adding that the city also offers attractive economic incentives for tech companies and is considerably warmer than Boston.
"But if I’m trying to recruit people to a state that has legislation on its books that is hostile to women and their autonomy over their own bodies, I imagine that would be very difficult. There are other places I can open an office," Dowling said.
Groups advocating for abortion access argue that the new state laws are part of a broad strategy by anti-abortion activists to eat away at reproductive rights nationwide.
As well as threatened company boycotts and online campaigns to pressure companies headquartered in the states passing restrictive abortion measures, there has also been a surge of social media posts of people saying they would stay away from the states that have passed the legislation.
This is a worry for the hotel and hospitality industry. At its monthly meeting on Wednesday, with final passage of the law looming, the board overseeing the Morial Convention Center asked management to monitor the potential effects.
"Controversial legislation has affected convention groups' willingness to hold their annual conventions in cities or states that pass legislation that is in conflict with their guiding principles or business philosophies," said Michael Sawaya, president and general manager of the Convention Center, referring to boycotts over controversial legislation in Indiana and North Carolina concerning bathroom access for transgender people.
"It is too new of an issue for us to have any history on (it, but) we will monitor it so that we can quantify and report the effect on business in the future," he said.
The Convention Center also has been trying to book a diverse range of new clients, including Amazon and Microsoft, and recently has booked the National LGBTQ Creating Change Task Force conference for 2022.
Sarah Massey, a spokeswoman for the LGBTQ Task Force, said the organization is still not firm about its New Orleans plans, but that one of her group's goals is to offer support in places where they feel there is a need for greater activism on issues important to the members.
"We lift up local organizers and activists, elevate the profile of the local LGBTQ community and organizations, and highlight the successes and challenges of their work. There is value in us showing up in places that need us most," Massey said.
Essence Banks, president of the New Orleans Multicultural Tourism Network and a promoter of this year's Essence Festival, said she also hopes people will see New Orleans as distinct from the legislation.
"I know folks like myself and in the tourism industry are staying close to (the issue) and we're working very hard with the Essence Festival team to make sure there is no fallout from the artists," Banks said. This year's festival, running July 5-7, will feature Michelle Obama and entertainers like Mary J. Blige.
The television and production business is also vulnerable. On Thursday, Comcast's NBCUniversal said in a statement that “if any of these laws are upheld, it would strongly impact our decision-making on where we produce our content in the future.” Netflix, Disney and WarnerMedia all have voiced similar sentiments.
The focus of the Hollywood studios' backlash was initially on Georgia's $10 billion television and film production industry, but Louisiana's film and TV production business also is now seen as vulnerable.
Of the companies that have voiced concerns about the law, several are currently filming in the state. Disney is filming "Sulphur Springs" in New Orleans. The upcoming production of "The Purge," Season Two, also filmed in New Orleans, is a production of the USA Network, a division of NBCUniversal, as is the drug-dealer themed drama "Queen of the South," Season Four.
Chris Stelly, executive director of Louisiana Entertainment, a division of Louisiana Economic Development that promotes film and television production in the state, declined to comment directly on the potential impact on the law.
"We remain focused on attracting new entertainment jobs for Louisiana residents and supplier opportunities for Louisiana’s small businesses," he said in an e-mail.
LED estimates that the film and television industry generated spending of nearly $460 million in Louisiana last year.
Supporters of the abortion law maintain that they must follow their principles.
State Sen. John Milkovich, a Democrat who represents a district in the northwest part of the state, was one of the bill's sponsors. He said: "States across the nation are saying, ‘We are no longer going to devalue life. We are going to acknowledge the sanctity of human life.' "