A highly-reliable source in Richmond, Va. relayed to me the fact that, when the state’s new, right-wing attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, went out of his way in February to order all colleges and universities to strip language extending anti-discrimination policies to cover lesbians and gays, that the state’s chances of winning the relocation of Fortune 100 mega-corporation Northrop Grumman were thrown very seriously into doubt.
The source reported that negotiators from Northrop Grumman went over Cuccinelli’s head directly to the Office of the Governor and let Bob McDonnell know in no uncertain terms that Cuccinelli’s excessive behavior could be a deal-killer.
Since announcing its intention to move its headquarters to somewhere in the Washington, D.C. metro region, the economic development arms of Maryland, the District and Virginia had been working furiously to persuade the giant to set up shop with them. It was in this highly-competitive environment that the Cuccinelli statement made national headlines.
McDonald acted swiftly, overriding the bigoted spirit of Cuccinelli’s missive with an action of his own, a governor’s administrative policy ruling that was effusive in its insistence that protection from discrimination extends to all Virginians, under the 14th Amendment’s “equal protection under the law” language, and explicitly identifying lesbians and gays among those so protected.
Fast-forward to the joint announcement made this Tuesday on the 23rd floor of a building located on the banks of the Potomac overlooking the nation’s capital. Northrop Grumman’s CEO and President Wes Bush and Gov. McDonnell stood together to announce that, indeed, the leading aerospace and security corporation had chosen Northern Virginia for its new home.
With 120,000 employees globally, including 30,000 in Virginia, the prestige Northrop Grumman’s move to Virginia affords the state is surpassed only by the mighty economic jolt it will provide on its road to prosperity. Even though the headquarters, currently based in Los Angeles, houses only 300 employees, the impact on the Fairview Park section of Falls Church, Virginia, and the nearby Tysons Corner area will be humongous. It will bring scores of smaller high tech firms in its wake, eager to glean a piece of the giant contracts that Northrop Grumman wins from the federal government and others.
If ever there was a demonstration of a direct connection between economic growth opportunity in the 21st century business world and thoroughly anti-discriminatory public policy, this is it.
Even so, there was only one Chamber of Commerce organization in all of Virginia that had the foresight and courage to acknowledge this, with its board of directors passing, by a 10-1 vote, a resolution earlier this month assailing Cuccinelli for the chilling effect his policy would have on business opportunity. Ironically, the Chamber in question is based in Falls Church, right in the neighborhood where Northrup Grumman intends to set up shop.
When I had the opportunity to discuss these matters with Northrop Grumman’s chief this week, Wes Bush went out of his way to elaborate on his company’s long and proud record of protecting everyone, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, in its employment. The policy extends to granting rights to domestic partners and the company, as a result, has won many accolades and awards for its strong pro-diversity posture.
The emphatic nature of Bush’s remarks to me, and his affirmation that they include lesbians and gays, was his way of saying that Northrop Grumman will not be deterred in Virginia by any right wing Cuccinelli-like policy or point of view, and that he has more than adequate assurances and confidence that such will be the case.
He would not concede that he’d gotten that assurance directly from the governor, saying only that he didn’t want to divulge the content of the negotiations that went on leading to the company’s decision to be in Virginia.
But a company as vigilant in its internal employee relations as Northrop Grumman will have a powerful social impact on the turf in which it operates, where its highly-educated and skilled employees will go out to lunch, shop, have their clothes cleaned, send their kids to schools and, ultimately, vote.
In this context, it’s a wonderful irony that it was a right wing Republican administration in Virginia that worked so hard to recruit all this into its very midst.
Nicholas Benton may be emailed at [email protected]