In the days following the passage of Georgia’s controversial new elections law, the Major League Baseball All-Star Game has relocated to Colorado and boycotts are being discussed for major Georgia corporations including Coca-Cola, Home Depot, and Delta.
GPB’s Sarah Rose spoke with Emory economics professor Tom Smith about the impact boycotts could have on the state and those working here.
*The transcript of this conversation was edited for brevity.
SARAH ROSE: There’s been a lot of talk, as I’m sure you’re aware, of boycotting the major industries in the state such as Coca-Cola, Delta, the Home Depot. Curious your thoughts on that. What kind of impact would that have?
TOM SMITH: People have to draw a set of dots, right? They say, ‘Coca-Cola is not coming out against the law strong enough, so we should boycott Coca-Cola, or Home Depot, or Delta.’
Well, first, it’s really difficult to boycott them en masse. You could have individual consumers saying, ‘You know what, I’m going to stop buying Dasani water, stop buying Coca-Cola at the grocery store.’
It would be really difficult for lots of companies to kind of unwind their relationship with Coca-Cola. Because it’s like, ‘Okay, you’re going to provide the beverages for our — for our cafeteria. You’re going to provide all of our vending machines.’
Well, those contracts are probably going out for two or three years. It’d be very difficult for all the hospitals or something to say they’re not going to have Coca-Cola vending machines anymore. That would take quite a while, probably really expensive for them. I mean, it’s almost — it’s almost not even worth trying to do the math because what it takes to boycott Coca-Cola is not just as simple as a bunch of people saying, ‘You know what, I’m just not going to order drinks when I get McDonald’s.’
I mean, that’s just — that’s not going to happen. People are still going to order a drink when they go to McDonald’s. It just doesn’t work.
People consume also because of convenience. What makes Delta Airlines such an amazing airline, especially for the South, is that you can get just about anywhere from Atlanta, direct flight. Who wants to do three stopovers just to make a trip? So I’m annoyed that maybe Delta didn’t speak out loud enough, but I don’t want to sit in an airport in Des Moines for four hours waiting for a connecting flight. Like at some point you just go, ‘Okay, it’s just not worth it.’
SARAH ROSE: Who does this affect in a situation like this? When I reported about the film industry earlier and Mark Hamill suggested that film companies boycott the Georgia film industry, all I spoke to were people within that industry who were worried about their jobs.
TOM SMITH: In order to put perspective on this, I mean, we could shoot back up like a little bit and say, ‘Okay, so Chick-fil-A’s position on a number of social issues has caused campuses and some hospitals and other places to reevaluate those relationships and have cut ties with Chick-fil-A in some ways.
So it hasn’t really impacted Chick-fil-A’s bottom line. What it’s done is it’s maybe made them think about the margins. ‘Are there ways we can position ourselves with some social issues so that we’re not getting a splashy negative press piece about how a university is cutting its ties because they don’t like our political position?’
So that’s — that’s where I see the negative impact is going to be.
SARAH ROSE: Something that’s a little bit more tangible is the All-Star Game, which was moved out of the state. That seems like it has a far more, I’ll say, real economic impact on the state and the businesses around Atlanta.
TOM SMITH: You can actually count the dollars on that. So there was probably going to be somewhere between a $50 [million] to $150 million impact of having the All-Star weekend here. There’s lots of cool events. It impacts all those companies around The Battery, for sure. It probably impacts other companies that would have provided services. So people aren’t going all the way to Cobb to rent a car. I mean, they’re going to rent a car at the airport. They’re flying in using Delta. They might be staying at the W Downtown or the Hyatt or the Marriott or the Omni. So it’s those companies that are going to see a reduction in customers.
And some people would go to the local museum and some people go to the aquarium. Some people go to the the NCAA Football Hall of Fame and some of the other awesome things that we have downtown. Those are the companies that are really impacted by this, the companies that were like, ‘Oh, we can have a good July because obviously there’s going to be like 50,000 more people in town and they’re going to need to do stuff.’
It’s the vendor who operates the Sky Wheel. That vendor — that vendor is going to say, ‘I was hoping for a bunch of people, I was going to be busy. No, I guess not.’
It’s not like a red or blue line. That person’s probably thinking, ‘Okay, Kemp screwed this thing up. I was hoping for a bunch of people to ride my, you know, sky wheels for the next weekend and it’s not going to happen.
That person or that company might very well have needed a boost like this to make sure that their year was good. That’s the person who is going to suffer. And that’s a drag because that person is just working hard, trying to get things together, offering a service to people. That’s the person who’s going to suffer. Coca-Cola? Not going to suffer.
SARAH ROSE: Could this affect future events in Georgia, as well?
TOM SMITH: Yeah, do you really want to make these companies cross off Atlanta on their list or at least think twice about it? That’s not what you want. You want these people to say, ‘Wait, Atlanta keeps on coming up at the top of our list here. I think we’ve got to go visit Atlanta.’
In a boardroom when people are sitting around and they flash up the flag of the top five cities on the PowerPoint and somebody goes, ‘Is Atlanta still on that list? You cannot be serious.’
That’s the conversation you don’t want happening.
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This story comes to The Georgia Sun through a reporting partnership with GA Today, a non-profit newsroom focused on reporting in Georgia.