Originally published April 13, 2015 in The Charlotte Observer

Three weeks after Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law a controversial LGBT measure that many are calling bad for business, Charlotte’s civic and business leaders are launching a campaign that touts the city as a welcoming place.

The “Always Welcome” campaign emphasizes how Charlotte’s “open for business, embraces and promotes diversity, inclusion and equality and know(s) our differences make us stronger,” according to its website alwayswelcomeclt.org.

It includes promotional materials like printable posters, storefront decals and a colorful logo intended to represent diversity. The campaign’s messaging was installed on the Westin’s exterior on April 14 and will also be found on Center City news racks, area billboards, the BB&T Ballpark and at the EpiCentre.

“Our goal is to get the message out that all are welcome in Charlotte, and we hope that helps decision-makers continue to choose Charlotte for their events,” Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority CEO Tom Murray said on April. 13.

The campaign doesn’t explicitly mention House Bill 2, which limits the legal protections of LGBT people by creating a statewide class of protected citizens. But it was Charlotte’s ordinance in the first place that turned a national spotlight on the state, since N.C. lawmakers say they were responding to the city’s new non-discrimination ordinance that would have allowed transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice.

“Always Welcome” is an “adaptable message [that] removes the current political atmosphere in North Carolina from the conversation and has straightforward objectives,” the campaign website reads.

It can help organizations communicate Charlotte s can-do business climate to current and prospective clients and customers.

Since the signing of HB2, which struck down Charlotte’s ordinance, hundreds of businesses have voiced their opposition and some have even said they no longer wish to do business in North Carolina. Last week PayPal said it won’t open a Charlotte operations center, which would have employed 400. At least 13 conventions and events have canceled their plans in Charlotte.

“Whether somebody is for or against Charlotte’s ordinance, whether someone is for or against HB2, there is real economic damage,” Charlotte Chamber CEO Bob Morgan said. “We d like to draw attention to that fact, to scream for a solution.”

Morgan said his organization and the business community plan to work with the CRVA on the inclusion campaign.

Indianapolis similarly launched a welcoming campaign called “Indy Welcomes All” weeks after Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law last year.

“Our research shows the best practices for cities that were in these kinds of environments is to get this campaign out,” CRVA’s Murray said.

On April 12, McCrory aimed to walk back on parts of HB2. He expanded non-discrimination protection for LGBT state employees and said he’s seeking legislation on the right to sue in state court for discrimination, but the bathroom provision remains unchanged.

Murray said it’s too soon to tell whether McCrory s actions will help ameliorate backlash from groups looking to host events in Charlotte.

qnotes is a Charlotte News Alliance partner.

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