The wrong door

Bath­room bill bad path for state

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - STEVE ARRISON Steve Arrison is CEO of Visit Hot Springs.

Ar­kan­sas is about to shoot it­self in the eco­nomic foot with a “so­lu­tion” that is look­ing for a prob­lem that doesn’t ex­ist.

A so-called “bath­room bill” has been in­tro­duced in the state Leg­is­la­ture. It would prove to be an eco­nomic land mine for those of us who have worked to make Ar­kan­sas an in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion for vis­i­tors from other states and coun­tries.

It would pro­duce an espe­cially harm­ful hand­i­cap for Hot Springs, which re­lies on meet­ings, con­ven­tions and sports events to re­tain our po­si­tion as Ar­kan­sas’ No. 1 tourism des­ti­na­tion. More than 7,400 tourism-re­lated jobs are on the line in Gar­land County alone.

And, as Gov. Asa Hutchin­son cor­rectly says, “I have con­sis­tently said that there is no need for a North Carolina-type bath­room bill in Ar­kan­sas. … I view the bill as un­nec­es­sary and po­ten­tially harm­ful.”

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We in Hot Springs and in the tourism/con­ven­tion/sports busi­ness in all of Ar­kan­sas couldn’t agree more. We stand solidly be­hind Gov­er­nor Hutchin­son in his clear-eyed as­sess­ment of the eco­nomic harm this bill would cause.

In Hot Springs, the de­struc­tive im­pact on our bid­ding for sports events would be espe­cially dev­as­tat­ing. As we have seen, the NCAA, NFL and other sports or­ga­ni­za­tions have pulled events out of North Carolina be­cause of that state’s bath­room bill.

Hot Springs has al­ready been the host city for the NCAA’s Di­vi­sion II Women’s Bas­ket­ball Na­tional Cham­pi­onships. We are in the cru­cial stages of bid­ding for a sim­i­lar event to be held in our Bank of the Ozarks Arena.

Pas­sage of a bath­room bill would cer­tainly ex­plode our chances of win­ning this busi­ness.

And, make no mis­take, it’s busi­ness that will be lost if we are sad­dled with a bill that is un­nec­es­sary. There has never been a re­ported in­stance of the need for such a bill in Ar­kan­sas. Busi­ness—keep that in mind. Travel and tourism are one of the cor­ner­stones of the Hot Springs and Gar­land County econ­omy. Vis­i­tors to Gar­land County gen­er­ated $745 mil­lion in eco­nomic im­pact in 2015. Vis­i­tor spend­ing in Gar­land County gen­er­ated more than $57 mil­lion in tax rev­enue for state and lo­cal gov­ern­ments.

In Ar­kan­sas as a whole, travel and tourism gen­er­ated more than $7 bil­lion in eco­nomic im­pact in 2015; vis­i­tors spent $7.28 bil­lion in Ar­kan­sas in 2015. Tourism is Ar­kan­sas’ sec­ond-largest eco­nomic in­dus­try.

Busi­ness lead­ers in North Carolina and Texas—where a sim­i­lar bath­room bill has been in­tro­duced—warn that the leg­is­la­tion could re­sult in an eco­nomic dis­as­ter to­tal­ing more than $13 bil­lion com­bined.

Those of us in the travel and tourism in­dus­try in Ar­kan­sas have worked for years to build that in­dus­try into a force for eco­nomic progress in a state that de­votes mas­sive ef­forts to pro­mot­ing that eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.

We don’t need to un­ravel decades of progress in pur­suit of a so­lu­tion that is look­ing for a prob­lem that sim­ply does not ex­ist.

Call your leg­is­la­tors and tell them to keep Ar­kan­sas’ travel and tourism in­dus­try on the path to pros­per­ity for all of us. Re­ject the bath­room bill.

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