RFRA Culture war stifles emerging growth companies
Dear Tech Community –
While RFRA legislation obviously requires lots of clarification that even legal scholars disagree about, what is clear is the impact it’s having on the brand of our state and on our tech community and companies.
We’ve been working behind the scenes with a coalition of others to find a solution to mitigate the impact to our businesses and our talent attraction brand. More details are coming soon about how you can get involved. I wanted to share with you, our tech community, the letter that we also delivered to our government leaders.
More to come … Mike.
I realize that this Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) debate is a complex and contentious topic that could take a long time to fully unpack and negotiate, and I realize that many teams, ours included, are working around the clock. That said, in representing the initiative focused on growth of Indiana’s technology companies, I have to stress the impact that reputation damage will do to our state’s economy.
Company expansions that would bring new jobs and investment are being put on hold, events are being canceled, sponsors are pulling out, and travel bans are being levied—all of which set us back economically regardless of whether or not it is fair or in some cases a bit hypocritical. Sadly, people are forming a very one-dimensional perception about our state.
For the aforementioned reasons alone, we should halt this RFRA culture war immediately. Beyond the fact that it misrepresents our inclusive and welcoming community, less visible and harder to quantify is the impact this is having on our emerging growth companies, both now and in the future. These fast-growing startups and scaleups actually create most of our net new jobs. New companies (i.e. those that are five years old or newer) produced more than two-thirds or 40 million net new jobs between 1980-2005 in the U.S., according to the Kauffman Foundation.
Why does this RFRA debate impact emerging growth companies?
Tech-skilled talent, capital investment and customers are the essential resources—the lifeblood—that enable these companies to thrive, hire, and compete globally. But those resources are very reputation-sensitive. When a company’s state is thrust into the national spotlight and painted as discriminatory and unwelcoming, it threatens the flow of these vital resources of talent, capital and customers.
Tech-skilled individuals are in high demand everywhere, so they are increasingly choosing where they want to live first and then deciding where they want to work. Computer-related jobs in Indiana are growing faster than computer-related jobs nationwide–something only true with a couple Indiana industry sectors–but competition is very high, with talent being recruited by the likes of Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, and Yelp—many of the same companies that have been bashing Indiana lately. This talent is needed by companies large and small all around the state, across most all industries.
Indiana’s state government needs this talent too. Median salary for computer-related occupations in Indiana is more than double that for the state’s other occupations ($68,500 vs. $32,500), and software developers command a median salary over $80,000. Computer-related jobs increase the tax base and disposable income, but new and existing computer-related jobs are jeopardized by this negative firestorm.
We’ve been making great progress in getting venture capital firms from the coasts interested in Indiana’s emerging growth companies. Potential investors contact me nearly every week and they are actively traveling here, but that interest is turning into questions not only about our values but about the impact that reputation damage will have on prospective investments.
Regarding customers, local executives tell me that prospective customers are already getting cold feet. That’s hard to hear, but even more so since, our state has been on such a roll lately. Since 2007, success of companies in the Indiana tech community led to more than a dozen IPOs or acquisitions, transactions that yielded more than $4.7 billion in market value.
To keep growing we need a steady and increasing stream of talent, investment capital and customers. Because of the latest controversy, all three are very much at risk and as a result, so are our emerging growth companies. We need to stop the bleeding; otherwise we will stunt the growth, or worse yet, lose an entire generation of entrepreneurs and employees—our highest-potential job creators. These young, emerging companies are our future; we must protect them.