A rally in Charlotte against the anti-LGBT law. (photo: Skip Foreman/AP)
Patrik Jonsson | Christian Science Monitor | Reader Supported News | April 25, 2016
North Carolina’s reputation as the South’s most progressive state brought enormous economic benefits. The transgender bathroom debate shows how things are changing – and could hold national lessons.
ust down the road from where an old-time AM station pumps out “10,000 watts of gospel power,” the thumbs-up “like” symbol of the global social media giant Facebook adorns a sprawling data storage complex – a nearly half-billion dollar investment in one of the poorest corners of Appalachia.
Facebook’s spending is a sign of North Carolina’s pull on corporate America, boosting it to the second-largest state economy in the Southeast, behind Florida and ahead of Georgia. But that strong economic foundation, built over decades, is showing signs of cracks, observers say.
The cracks appeared even before a hastily passed law that critics say discriminates against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and especially transgender Americans – a law that means North Carolina “just became the Bull Connor of the tech industry,” says Mike Capra, an Internet talk show host, referring to the civil-rights-era Birmingham, Ala., official who used his authority to block racial integration.
But that investment began to erode in 2010, when tea party Republicans rose to power in Raleigh. An emphasis on cutting spending programs, including for public school children, caused concern even before the combustible element of the culture wars were added. Despite economic growth in cities like Raleigh, Charlotte, and Asheville, two-thirds of North Carolina counties have seen poverty intensify since 2010.