More than 200 large and small businesses across Tennessee have united behind a message that they believe in the state’s famed friendliness and hospitality.
As members of the Tennessee Thrives coalition, they are proclaiming that they are open for business, want to grow their reach and want to attract the best talent.
They also want to see the record job growth and tourism growth continue.
That means standing for a political environment that encourages and embraces diversity and rejects discrimination against people for whatever reason.
This effort sends an important message to the Tennessee General Assembly — which convenes anew on Jan.10 — that it should abstain from legislation that is openly or subtly hostile toward people, regardless of their nationality, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or any other factor.
This is an important step because, last year, Tennessee lawmakers did pursue legislation that gave the impression outside the state that they were hostile to Muslims, refugees, the LGBT population, among other groups — in other words, that they were closed for business.
Bills that dominated the 2016 session were the counselor discrimination bill, which did pass into law (and has a proposed Part II for 2017), and a bill regulating transgender and intersex bathroom use, which did not come to a vote.
Three organizations canceled their conventions or meetings in Nashville in favor of other cities.
It wasn’t quite as bad as it was for North Carolina, which lost NCAA championship games, a PayPal location and the NBA All-Star game for its infamous House Bill 2 bathroom law, discriminating against transgender people. Lawmakers are now trying to undo that mistake.
The purported reasons I have heard for these types of bills are public safety or religious freedom. Yet, there is no evidence that there is a real problem these bills will fix.
In short, these measures seek to discriminate against certain classes of people.
That shouldn’t be the aim of lawmakers, who have many serious issues of head of them, like roads and transportation funding, healthcare and education, among others.
The election of Donald Trump as president has further put many of these groups on edge because of promises to deport undocumented immigrants and to bar Muslims from entering the United States.
Data released by the Partnership for a New American Economy earlier this year showed that immigrants, who make up 5 percent of the Tennessee population, are making significant contributions to the labor force and tax rolls. They are also filling jobs that Americans are not taking, such as in the technology and construction industries.
That includes undocumented immigrants whose statuses could have been corrected years ago but for failed bipartisan effort during both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama presidential administrations.
The #INDIVISIBLE campaign spearheaded by Renata Soto, co-founder of Conexión Américas, encourages residents via social media and civic action to create a welcoming environment for all Americans regardless of where they were born since they all play an important part in strengthening the fabric of this nation.
This message is critical and it solidifies the cities and towns of Tennessee as gateways to the South, which today embraces its roots but also embraces innovation, openness and growth.
So, it was fitting that Nashville was the first “gateway” city of the South to host the National Immigration and Integration Conference earlier this month.
Twelve percent of the city’s population is foreign-born and the South has the highest rate of percentage growth among Hispanics across the United States.
The conference produced powerful messages of dealing with struggle, contributing to the economy and becoming a productive part of the community.
Hopefully, lawmakers will heed these messages as they return to Nashville next month for the legislative session.
They should if they are serious about keeping the state open for business.
David Plazas is The Tennessean’s opinion engagement editor. Call him at (615) 259-8063, email him at [email protected] or tweet to him at @davidplazas.
Butch Spyridon explains the importance of the new group Tennessee Thrives.