The wrong door
Bathroom bill bad path for state
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.”
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.