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Opposed To The New Abortion Ban In Texas? Chicago Says Move On Up To The North

The Willis Tower rises above the downtown skyline on May 20, 2020 in Chicago. The Willis Tower, constructed as the Sears Tower, was once the world's tallest building.
The Willis Tower rises above the downtown skyline on May 20, 2020 in Chicago. The Willis Tower, constructed as the Sears Tower, was once the world's tallest building.

Updated September 23, 2021 at 12:44 PM ET

The City of Chicago believes turnabout is fair play.

For years, Texas has been trying to lure businesses away from other states, particularly those with higher taxes. The red state has even run ads promoting its low taxes and light regulations, while criticizing the "tax and spend policies of the liberal leadership" in blue states like California, New York and Illinois.

But now, Chicago is turning the tables on Texas, by trying to recruit social liberals in the Lone Star state in the wake of its new laws banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy and restricting voting access.

Chicago recently took out full page ads in the Sunday editions of the Dallas Morning News, that included this language:

"Dear Texas,

There were always more than 100 reasons why Chicago is a great place for business. Now we'd like to highlight a few more.

"In Chicago, we believe in science to fight COVID. We believe in people's right to vote and we believe in protecting reproductive rights," Chicago's Chief Marketing Officer Michael Fassnacht said, restating the content of the newspaper ad.

Fassnacht is also CEO of World Business Chicago, the city's nonprofit economic development arm, which created and sponsored the ad. He says his target audience is Texans who disagree with the socially conservative laws.

"If you believe similar things and have those same values, you might want to consider Chicago to start your career, to start a company or to relocate," Fassnacht told NPR.

Fassnacht doesn't expect to see a convoy of moving vans with Texas license plates rolling up Chicago's iconic Lake Shore Drive anytime soon, but he says social issues like abortion rights, voting rights, and racial justice are increasingly important to the talent companies need to grow and thrive.

"I think last year, and the civic unrest and the killing of George Floyd has opened people's eyes," Fassnacht said. "And I think business leaders nowadays understand they don't have to be political, but on key social issues, they probably have to take a stand because their talent pool, their employee base, want to know [where they stand]."

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, is joining the effort. Politico reports that Pritzker is writing letters to the CEOs of Dell Technologies, Hewlett-Packert, Match.com, Oracle and other major Texas-based corporations, criticizing "radical legislators in Texas" and urging them to move north to a state that "embraces the 21st century and aligns with your company's values to ensure women succeed."

A recent poll by the firm PerryUndem on behalf of the Tara Health Foundation found that nearly two-thirds of college-educated workers surveyed say the new Texas abortion law would discourage them from taking a job in the state.

But in an interview earlier this month on CNBC, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott dismissed such hand-wringing.

"The people who are not wringing their hands are the people who create jobs that run businesses that care about their daily lives and people are choosing Texas over any other state," Abbott said. "People vote with their feet and this is not slowing down businesses coming to the state of Texas at all. In fact, it is accelerating the process of businesses coming to Texas."

Abbott's press secretary Renae Eze added this in a statement: "The Texas economy is booming. People and businesses vote with their feet, and month after month they are choosing to move to Texas more than any other state in the country. Businesses are relocating to and investing in the Lone Star State at a record pace because we've built a framework that allows free enterprise to flourish and hardworking Texans to prosper."

Indeed, data show that Texas leads the nation in the number of people moving there from other states, and it continues to be a leader in corporate relocations.

But will it continue?

"I don't expect you to see a sudden mass exodus. I don't expect Chicago to run a couple of ads in the paper and all of a sudden, companies leave Texas in droves," said economist Ray Perryman, president of the Perryman Group, a Waco-based economic research and analysis firm. "But I do expect, that over time, the cities that do embrace equality, that do embrace individual rights, are going to find themselves increasingly in a stronger position than they have in the past."

Perryman told NPR that actions by Texas politicians to restrict reproductive rights, voting rights and how racial history is taught in schools, to limit rights based on gender identity, and their inaction on climate change and other environmental issues will make it more difficult for the state's employers to attract and retain top talent; especially the kinds of workers that are in such high demand, they can go anywhere they want.

"Increasingly, particularly among companies that use a lot of knowledge workers, that group, overwhelmingly, about 86%, oppose these types of policies," Perryman said. "They're mobile, they're the single most important resource for these large companies that are high-growth technology companies. So going forward, I think it's going to be more difficult for Texas than it was before and it's going to make the competition more intense."

Adam Bruns, managing editor of Site Selection magazine, which tracks where companies choose to move and grow, says there have been instances in which states have lost expansions after enacting similar policies.

He points to Indiana's passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 2015, signed into law by then Gov. Mike Pence, which would allow businesses to deny services to LGBTQ people on religious grounds. In response, Angie's List scrapped plans for a corporate expansion in Indianapolis that would've added 1,000 jobs, and Salesforce pulled back on expansion plans too.

But Bruns says that's not always the case.

"When the quote-unquote bathroom bill surfaced in North Carolina, there was a lot of sturm and drang over that. A lot of company investments went ahead anyway," Bruns said. "They made statements [against the bill] but they also went ahead with their expansions."

Bruns says while public policies on social issues can factor into business location decisions, it's not the only consideration. There are also taxes, land, labor and building costs, transportation, infrastructure, access to markets and supply chain, among other issues, are also major considerations.

"While there may be boycotts and you know, some understandable stress caused by this or that political issue, companies will still return to those underlying reasons when they make a final decision," he said.

But as far as Chicago advertising to Texans that it has more liberal policies on abortion rights and other issues, Bruns says that's "fair game."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.