Commentary: State of insanity

Pitching Corporate Relocations the Honest Way

June 6, 2022 7:00 am
(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Middle Tennessee’s economic vitality is built in good measure on relocation: decisions by employers to move operations here. The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce’s relocation pitch paints a picture of a region “defined by a diverse economy, low costs of living and doing business, a creative culture and a well-educated population.” The state of Tennessee’s economic development arm positions us as a place where taxes are low and unions are weak, with business-friendly tort and workers compensation laws. Plus we make world-class guns. Seriously, they mention that twice on the business climate homepage.

But the zealous boosterism that Chamber and ECD types dish up tells only part of the story of what it means to move a business here. Sometimes late at night when I’m having trouble drifting off to sleep, wondering if I’ll be turned into a corpse tomorrow by some kid that Gov. Bill Lee wants to make sure has easy access to an AR-15, I conjure up the all-hands memo I’d write to my employees if I were leading a business about to move to Tennessee. It goes something like this.

Time to reboot the state’s corporate economic and development pitches? Make note the state has no minimum wage, little support for LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections, no inclination to legalize marijuana, a trigger law to outlaw abortion and lawmakers who want to ban books.

Dear associates, (because we’re a groovy firm that calls workers “associates”)

I’ve got big news to share: we’re moving the business to Nashville! I know you’ll be thrilled about the move because Tennessee has so much to offer. Let me try to fire up your enthusiasm with some things that make our new corporate home so wonderful.

For starters, low wages: Tennessee is not just one of the twenty states that hasn’t raised its minimum wage above the paltry $7.25 federal rate, it’s one of five that technically has no minimum wage at all. So if as a side hustle you decide to start a small business, you can pay those who are exempt from federal wage laws whatever the hell poverty wages you want. 

You’re probably thinking: Well sure, it’s a red state, but we’re moving the firm to Nashville – a blue city with a more enlightened labor climate. Think again! To make sure those pesky urbanites don’t get any pinko commie ideas, the Tennessee legislature has legally barred cities like Nashville from ever raising minimum wages on their own turf, or from passing any sort of requirement that workers get paid sick or family leave. 

You’ll find once you get there that it’s a warm and welcoming place, if bigotry counts as welcoming: Tennessee is a bottom-five state on public support for LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections, with zero legal protection for discrimination in housing or public accommodations based on sexual orientation or gender identity. And just like with wages, the state has legally barred cities like Nashville from enacting their own nondiscrimination protections.

Well at least there’s good news on reproductive rights: most Tennesseans think abortion should be legal in at least some circumstances. But the bad news is the state legislature has no interest in what most people think. Medication abortion via mail or telehealth is now a felony, and a trigger law will make abortion completely illegal as soon as the U.S. Supreme Court guts Roe  v. Wade, with no rape or incest exceptions. Yes, valued associates, we’re moving to a state where your daughter will be forced by law to give birth to her rapist’s baby. 

And that baby will be happy to discover it’s a state that cares a whole lot about education—that cares enough to make it illegal for public schools to mention “divisive concepts” like inequality and racism. That cares enough to want to ban and burn books that right wingers find inappropriate for public school libraries. That cares enough to put on the state education board the owner of a firearm ammo business being sued for selling to a teenager who shot up a Texas high school. That cares enough to be watching its rate of high school graduates going on to college drop like a stone.

And speaking of literacy, it’s a state where more than half the population thinks Trump won the 2020 election or aren’t sure who won, and more than half view the events of Jan. 6, 2021 as legitimate political discourse. This must be the Nashville Chamber’s “well-educated population.”

More good news: you won’t have to worry about encountering homeless people when we move to Tennessee because there aren’t any … the state legislature made it illegal! But if you do and find them scary you’ll be fine because our new home Tennessee lets just about everyone carry a gun almost anywhere without a permit. Handy tip: Better make sure you have it when you’re tooling around town because Tennessee is proud to be a top-five state in road rage shooting incidents. 

There is a downside to all of this great news about our new home: Unfortunately you’ll have to forget about ever getting high legally. Tennessee is on the shrinking list of states with neither recreational nor medical weed, and that may well not change for years. Even those hotbeds of progressive social policy Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Georgia, and West Virginia have legalized medical marijuana, but that sort of thing is far too radical for the Volunteer State, where some lawmakers want to put even the low-THC hemp trade out of business. 

So valued associates, I’m sure you’re just as excited as I am about relocating to this fabulous place where taxes are regressive, guns are plentiful, wages are minimized, abortions are criminalized, LGBT people are brutalized, and education is trivialized. Our new state! Let’s get packing…

-Your humble CEO

I invite the Nashville Chamber and the Tennessee ECD office to freely plagiarize the above for inclusion in relocation pitch materials. Might as well give ‘em the complete picture for a change.

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Bruce Barry
Bruce Barry

Bruce Barry is a professor of management at Vanderbilt University who teaches and writes about ethics, conflict, rights, politics, policy, and other things that pop into his head.