Lt. Gov. Dan Forest met attendees and posed for pictures following Tuesday's NFIB discussion, which was held at Mitchell Community College.
Lt. Gov. Forest discusses HB2, state support for small businesses at local event
BY AMY FUHRMAN
On one hand, Tuesday's National Federation of Independent Business discussion between Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and community members raised important concerns about issues and challenges facing small businesses in Iredell County and across the state.
But on the other hand, when that discussion turned to HB2 and its impact on attracting businesses to North Carolina, some painful misconceptions were voiced about transgender people.
Forest spent more time answering questions about HB2 than any other issue during his hour-long visit to Mitchell Community College's Workforce Development Center, so it seems appropriate to begin there.
What some people don't realize, Forest said, was that HB2 was the state's required response to an ordinance by the City of Charlotte that, among other things, said gender could not be used as a basis for discrimination in access to restrooms. Charlotte, he said, did not have the constitutional authority to create that legislation, which is why state lawmakers created a policy for public accommodations that has become known as HB2.
Providing exceptions for transgender people creates a situation that could be dangerous for women and children, Forest claimed.
"Transgenderism is a feeling ... it could be a feeling just for the day," Forest said in explaining the fear of HB2 supporters that any man could claim to be transgender, thus "creating the potential for someone with nefarious purposes walking into a girls' locker room."
Throughout his talk, Forest invited attendees several times to fact check his statements.
Doing so did not support his claim that identifying as transgender is a "feeling." Instead, the American Psychological Association defines transgender as "an umbrella term for persons whose gender identity, gender expression or behavior does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth."
The APA goes on to discuss the complicated factors involved in a person who identifies as transgender. "The diversity of transgender expression and experiences argues against any simple or unitary explanation," according to the APA. "Many experts believe that biological factors such as genetic influences and prenatal hormone levels, early experiences, and experiences later in adolescence or adulthood may all contribute to the development of transgender identities."
In addition, Forest said during his comments that "the person who wrote the (Charlotte) ordinance was a registered sex offender."
According to snopes.com, that is not exactly the case. Forest was referring to Chad Sevearance, who was formerly the leader of Charlotte's LGBT Chamber of Commerce. Sevearance is a registered sex offender who was convicted in 2000 of a “lewd act, committing or attempting a lewd act upon a child under 16” while serving as a youth minister in South Carolina.
He is not, however, the person who wrote the ordinance, according to the fact-checking website.
Snopes.com states: "It is true Chad Sevearance was charged with and convicted of sexual contact with teenaged boys when he was 20, and he was quoted as opposing HB2 (because "someone can ask me to leave a restaurant because I’m presumed to be gay or transgender") on 3 March 2015, but to term him the "leader" of opposition to HB2, or even a major player in the Charlotte ordinance that inspired it, is an exaggeration. In March 2016, following heavy criticism from conservative groups, Sevearance stepped down from his position as president of Charlotte's LGBT Chamber of Commerce, rendering the claims about his role in the opposition to HB2 even less accurate."
SUPPORT FOR SMALL BUSINESSES
The rest of the session Tuesday afternoon was focused on how the state can support small businesses. During his remarks, Forest urged small business owners to share their concerns with state leaders, noting that regulatory reform has been undertaken every session for the past four years.
"If government is on your back in ways that cause strain to your business, we want to know," he said. "We want to see if that burden can be taken away."
About two dozen members of the local business community were in attendance, and several questions focused on the need for capital start-up funds to help businesses open and the need for skilled workers to fill jobs at those businesses.
"Getting started is the hardest part," Forest said, adding that too many small businesses are never opened due to restrictive lending regulations. "It's the government telling banks what they can do with their money. We've got to get past it."
One way that is happening, Forest said, is a new law that allows businesses to raise capital through crowdfunding. Essentially, entrepreneurs will now be able to seek up to $2 million in funds from private investors who aren't accredited by the Securities and Exchange Commission. He also said there are signs that regulations on banks will loosen a bit, increasing their ability to help small businesses with start-up costs.
Mitchell Community College President Tim Brewer discussed the need to increase the pipeline of students from high schools into vocational programs that will provide the skills for high-need industries.
To that point, Forest emphasized the idea that a four-year degree need not be the end goal for every student. "There are multiple purposes to education," he said. "If you graduate with a liberal arts degree, have debt and no job, that's a problem. The best value in North Carolina is the community college system."
There is now a program in place that lets all credits from two-year programs to transfer to four-year colleges in-state, Forest said, allowing students to save up to 44 percent of tuition and other costs in achieving a four year degree. He also voiced support for future efforts to promote apprenticeship programs at companies to strengthen that pipeline for skilled workers in local markets.
One attendee asked about how, as a small business owner, his concerns could reach the right people in Raleigh to affect change.
Forest's advice was to advocate for change as an industry, either through a lobbyist or individually. He noted that at the state level, business owners have relatively easy access to the ears of their representatives.
"The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Come to Raleigh and you can walk in the door (to House and Senate members) and most of them are sitting in the office and will talk to you," Forest said, adding that his office is also open to hearing from constituents. "If it's something that makes a lot of sense, we want to get it done."
Forest also took questions about how the state can be more competitive in attracting big industry projects, using a Toyota plant as an example. In the past, he said, state laws prohibited officials from knowing which company was interested in moving to or expanding in North Carolina, meaning packages couldn't be tailored to their needs. That is changing, Forest said, which should make North Carolina more competitive.
"We've never really been in the game," he said. "I believe next time (a company) comes, N.C.'s going to be a real player."