“Good afternoon, Madam Chair and members of the committee. I am pleased to be here today after nearly a decade of advocacy on behalf of employers to expand the Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act to protect the LGBTQ+ community. This committee hearing is the latest manifestation of a long and fruitful partnership between the Detroit Regional Chamber and the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce to rally our collective membership to support issues that businesses on both ends of I-96 have identified as critical to our competitiveness, what we have dubbed “East-West Action.”
Andy will talk more about the specific history in Grand Rapids and how we have gotten to this point, but I will note that our first statement together on this issue came at the 2014 Mackinac Policy Conference, when then AT&T Michigan President Jim Murray helped convene the first Competitive Workforce Coalition. Jim helped to solidify what was already and established ethos in the business world of including fully including all our employees and customers in our businesses. Our members told us then that Michigan’s ability to attract talent would be enhanced by an expansion of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.
What we heard anecdotally then we know from research now. As I talk to members about the issues that they are struggling with as employers, they continue to mention talent acquisition and retention as an enormous challenge facing Michigan now and into the future. This includes low-wage workers, skilled trades, engineers, PhD’s and every point in between. With record-low unemployment, an aging population, and low workforce participation rate, we have to use every single arrow in our quiver if we are going to be competitive. When you come to the Mackinac Policy Conference this year, the theme is the “Power of and” meaning we need to escape “either, or” conversations and embrace “yes, and.” Our economic development strategy needs to be an “and” strategy. We need to focus on a Michigan that is competitive economically and respects the human rights of all of its citizens. I will also note, that in all of the time the Chamber has been a vocal advocate for this legislation, we have not had a single member ask us to alter our position to allow for businesses to continue to discriminate based on religious beliefs.
In December, the Chamber released its most recent public policy poll of Michigan residents. I encourage you to look at all of the results as they contain valuable information for policymakers. One result jumps out as particularly relevant to the conversation we are having in this committee. We asked Michiganders how important a state’s policy on social issues would be when considering whether to accept a new job; the types of people we will be asked to fill our battery plants, R&D centers, and unfilled nursing positions. 59.6% of Michiganders said it would be important, including 38.4% who said it would be very important. The numbers get more staggering when you look at young people age 30-39, 73.8% say it is important, and for those making over $100,000, 62.7% say it is important. It is clear the individuals that Michigan employers most want to attract are paying attention to where Michigan stands on protecting basic rights. It’s no surprise then that our friends at the Indianapolis Chamber and the Metro Atlanta Chamber have spent so much of their time fighting legislation that would protect discrimination, because they too understand that the team with the best talent is going to win.
The bill before you today is not a difficult request, it is good business and best practice that Michigan businesses of all stripes already follow. The employers across Michigan are looking for opportunities to be more inclusive in their hiring and culture to build better teams and businesses are finding it advantageous to serve every customer. This bill sends the message to the rest of the world that Michigan gets it, that we are a state where everyone is welcome. This is important to the LGBTQ+ community, but also straight allies who want a state where there entire family is welcome and they can be assured that their own rights will continue to be valued.
As I mentioned, this has been a collaborative effort with our friends in Grand Rapids for nearly as long as Andy and I have been in our positions, so I’d like to ask Andy Johnston to share the perspective from the west side of the state as well.”