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Businesses react to Confederate battle flag’s impending removal

Author: Chris Cox

Source: GSA Business

July 9, 2015

Reactions from the state’s business community continue to trickle in over the Confederate flag’s impending removal from the Statehouse grounds, with Gov. Nikki Haley slated to sign the bill into law later this afternoon.

Early this morning, the S.C. House of Representatives voted 94-20 in favor of the Senate bill that will remove the flag from the Confederate Soldier Monument on the Statehouse front lawn and place it in the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum.

Haley will sign the bill at 4 p.m. on the second floor of the Statehouse, and the governor’s office has said the flag will be removed at 10 a.m. Friday.

“The South Carolina Chamber of Commerce and the state’s business community applaud the South Carolina Senate and the House of Representatives for their swift action to remove the Confederate flag from Statehouse grounds to a place of honor in the Confederate Relic Room,” said Ted Pitts, president and CEO of the state chamber.

“Going back to 1999, the business community has been united on the need to address the Confederate flag, and we thank our elected officials for listening and leading on the issue. It truly is a great day in South Carolina as our elected officials move this state forward.”

The chamber said taking down the emblem will support investment and job creation, expand market opportunities for state goods and services, and help attract a diverse and talented workforce, in addition to moving South Carolina’s businesses forward.

“Sonoco joins the State’s business community in applauding the General Assembly on its decision to move the Confederate flag away from the Statehouse grounds and to the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum,” the Hartsville-based packaging company said in a statement.

“We firmly believe that this decision is in the best interests of South Carolina’s people and its businesses. This transition marks a significant step in the state’s continuous progress to model the tolerance, respect and unity that its citizens have shown in Charleston over the past few weeks and value as a central part of our state’s culture moving forward.”

The chamber also highlighted South Carolina’s new tourism opportunities, which have been hindered since before the flag first was raised at the corner of Gervais and Main streets in 2000. It was around that time that the NAACP called for a tourism boycott of the state until the flag was removed.

Its move into a museum may bring that boycott to an end, NAACP President and CEO Cornell Brooks said.

“This legislative decision affirms the 15 years of collective advocacy of the NAACP on both the national and state level to bring down the flag, in particular our 15-year economic boycott of the state that was joined by the NCAA and UAW,” he said. “As we head to Philadelphia for our 106th annual convention this Saturday, we can now consider an emergency resolution to lift the economic boycott of the state.  Today, South Carolina ushers the state and our country into a new era — one of unity and inclusion at a time of such profound tragedy.”

In Charleston, Dr. David Cole, president of the Medical University of South Carolina, also applauded the vote, saying, “It is important that any flag flying above our Capitol or Statehouse grounds is an inclusive and unifying symbol for the citizens of our state as we move forward. We applaud Gov. Nikki Haley and the General Assembly for their leadership and responsiveness to this pressing issue.”

Several businesses have held off on speaking until the bill officially becomes law. As the flag’s presence on the Statehouse grounds draws to a close, more organizations are expected to speak out.

“We support the leadership of South Carolina and the steps taken to address this important issue for the people of South Carolina,” Boeing spokesman Rob Gross said.

Despite being met with some resistance, most notably from Rep. Mike Pitts, R-Laurens, and Sen. Lee Bright, R-Roebuck, lawmakers ultimately united to bring down the flag, which Columbia resident Dylann Roof was seen posing with in several pictures. Roof is charged with murder in a June 17 massacre at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church that left nine black worshippers dead. Among them was the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a state senator.

“This moment is about more than a flag or a vote,” Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said. “It’s about the hope that now, 150 years after the end of the Civil War, we have grown beyond our differences and have begun to grow together.

“This is not the end of division, of prejudice or of hate. But it is the beginning of something new and if we can hold on to it and to each other, if we can nurture that hope and help it grow, then we will have something more precious than a history. We will have a future.”

Reach Chris Cox at 803-726-7545 or on Twitter @chrisbcox.


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