ATLANTA — Atlanta's courtship with Amazon enters a playoff round – and one civic booster says it requires playing offense as well as defense.
"Offense" means offering an aggressive incentive package without giving away the proverbial store. Boosters say "defense" means keeping Georgia's business climate the way it is – without complicating it with unnecessary controversy.
Religious Freedom is a concept that divided the Capitol over much of the last three years. Critics say bills guaranteeing "religious freedom" were anti-gay and therefore discriminatory. Backers said they protected religious rights.
Now critics say new religious freedom legislation could chase off Amazon. "There will be one winner and a lot of losers" in the Amazon sweepstakes, said Brian Robinson, who represents a business coalition called Georgia Prospers.
Amazon chose 20 cities as its finalists. A handful of them are in states that have religious freedom laws. Some, like North Carolina, have lost business because of those laws.
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"We have an open, welcome and inclusive environment here," Robinson said. "We think it's an advantage for us that those states have those policies."
But supporters of religious freedom bills in Georgia says Amazon's list shows a willingness on the part of the company to play ball with religious freedom states.
That's not going to decide this issue," said state Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus), a sponsor of religious freedom legislation in recent years. "Corporations make decisions based on regulatory and tax environments and dollars and cents. The more money Amazon can make in terms of incentives, the more likely they're going to be to come to one of those cities on the list of 20."
A religious freedom bill introduced last year got no traction and is unlikely to get past Gov. Deal if it passes this year. Next year, with a new governor, may be a different story.