28 March 2015

Did Angie's List or SalesForce.com really make some big anti-Indiana economic decisions? Nope.

With all the hoopla surrounding Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a thoroughly uncontroversial law that mirrors almost word for word laws already on the books in nineteen other states and the Federal government, we've seen several companies jump on the #BoycottIndiana bandwagon.

Or have we?

Here's a quick look at two of them: Angie's List and SalesForce.com.

After some negative comments about RFRA by SalesForce CEO Marc Benioff, several outlets have falsely reported that the company cancelled it's annual conference in Indiana due to RFRA.

Here's the problem with those reports: SalesForce announced the conference's move from Indianapolis to New York in September of last year - six months before the passage of RFRA.

You see, in 2013, SalesForce acquired Indianapolis-based ExactTarget, which had held the event in their home town for years. They were already committed to holding the 2014 conference in Indianapolis again, but immediately began negotiations for the following year.

SalesForce is a large, San Francisco-based corporation that has little interest in small midwestern cities as hosts for their events. This move was happening, and did happen, with or without the RFRA.

The company may allow people to draw other conclusions as long as they think the press is positive, but they didn't "Boycott Indiana."

Angie's List is a more interesting story. Much has been made of their announcement that they are now "considering other options" for their ongoing plan to expand their headquarters and add some 1000 new jobs in Indianapolis due to the RFRA.

Here's the thing, though: Angie's List has been actively lobbying to an $18.5 million package of subsidies from the City-County Council for that project. It has gone back and forth between council and committee and is up for a final vote on Monday, March 30th.

Angie's List had better be considering other options, because they can't afford to expand without the subsidies. They are not a profitable company.

How often do we hear about professional sports teams threatening to move if they don't get a subsidized stadium? This is no different. And again, Angie's List is clearly hoping that the press they get by tying this to RFRA will be positive. But if that proposal passes Monday, smart money says they'll go right ahead with the project.

Update: since I originally posted this, Angie's List announced that they are formally withdrawing their application for tax abatement. Sorry, I remain convinced it has 100% to do with economics. Maybe they just figured Monday's vote wouldn't go their way, or maybe they just realized that they need to start turning a profit before embarking on a project like that. After all, they have actually reduced their workforce in the last year, and the subsidy proposal was very unpopular.

The fact is, 90% of the people who want to boycott Indiana have not read (or do not understand) the new law, and most of them have never been to Indiana. Just like Angie's List and SalesForce.com, they are simply chiming in on a trending topic on social media.

Businesses do things for their own reasons, so don't believe the fake momentum from the "boycott" crowd.

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