Exclusive: Firm reconsiders Georgia after ‘religious liberty’ veto

One of two economic development projects Georgia lost over the “religious liberty” bill is back in play after Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed the measure this week, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has learned.

Andrew Capezzuto, the general counsel of the Department of Economic Development, said Georgia is back in consideration for one project, while the second company has already turned its attention to other states. A leading proponent of House Bill 757, however, questioned whether were other factors involved that lead the one company to decide to go elsewhere.

Capezzuto, responding to an Open Records Act request, would not name the company that is again considering Georgia, since the law allows the department to keep secret details of active economic development projects.

The other company that abandoned Georgia after the House and Senate passed HB 757 is a Charleston, S.C.-based firm that manufacturers water-purification systems. Innovative Resources Group CEO John M. Ragsdale told department officials on March 17 — the day after the bill received final passage in the Legislature — that it was a major reason for the company to scratch Georgia from its list.

“We have looked at a number of facilities and were narrowing the choices to include choices in GA, but with (the) law passed by the GA legislative assembly we can not (sic) proceed with any GA facilities,” Ragsdale wrote to senior project manager Wylly Harrison, according to a copy of the email the newspaper obtained.

After Deal’s veto, Harrison again wrote to Ragsdale. “I do not know if it makes a difference or not, but you may have read or heard Governor Deal vetoed the Religious Liberty Bill earlier this week. … Again, I do not know if it will affect your decision or not but just wanted to share. If you do decide to consider Georgia again, Walt and I are happy to help you anyway we can.”

Ragsdale responded less than 10 minutes later.

“We already moved down the path with other states and it does not make (sense) to bring GA back in the mix,” he said.

According to an email from Harrison to Economic Development Director Chris Carr, Ragsdale’s firm was looking for a 150,000-square-foot manufacturing facility. Harrison estimated the project would have created 75 or more jobs and at least a $10 million investment.

Major corporations and sports leagues across the country threatened boycotts of the state if the bill became law. But Ragsdale’s company is the only confirmed case of the backlash over the measure having a direct impact on the state. While several lawmakers called for lawmakers to return to Atlanta for a special session to consider overriding Deal’s veto, the effort does not appear to have momentum.

Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, who has fought for religious liberty legislation for more than two years, said the timing of Ragsdale’s decision is questionable. “It would seem there were other factors driving the decision,” he said. “If this was the reason for the decision, then logically if the governor removed that impediment you’d think they’d want to come back and do business with us.”

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