Ohio leaders aim to attract Indiana businesses, people amid religious-objections law backlash

Officials in Ohio want to capitalize on backlash against a religious-objections law in neighboring Indiana that critics say could permit discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Canton, Cleveland, Columbus and Dayton are among communities boasting of their cities' diversity and, in some cases, inviting Indiana businesses to cross the state line.

In Dayton, officials are working to attract companies and individuals looking to leave Indiana because they oppose the new law, promoting the southwestern Ohio city's recognition for diversity and inclusiveness, the Dayton Daily News reported (http://bit.ly/1MyQvTf ).

On Wednesday, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley joined U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown and city officials from Canton and Columbus at a Statehouse news conference to urge Indiana businesses to set up shop in Ohio.

"No one would tolerate a business in this country today refusing to sell to somebody because they're black," said Brown, a Democrat. "We should not allow a business to refuse to sell to someone because they're gay, pure and simple."

The Indiana law prohibits state laws that "substantially burden" a person's ability to follow his or her religious beliefs. The law doesn't mention gays, but opponents say it's designed to protect businesses and individuals who don't want to serve them. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has asked lawmakers to send him a bill clarifying the intent of the law by the end of the week.

Lawmakers in the Ohio House withdrew similar legislation last year citing concern over the bill's unintended consequences.

Whaley said staff will work to identify Indiana companies that fit Dayton's industrial and workforce strengths and that might be prepared to move.

"It's an opportunity for us to say, 'Here is a welcoming community 45 minutes from your state line,'" she said.

Other Ohio cities are also promoting their gay friendly reputations. Cleveland hopes to build its reputation as a gay friendly city after hosting the 2014 Gay Games in August. Mayor Frank Jackson on Wednesday invited businesses to come to Cleveland.

Columbus officials have long touted the capital city as a welcoming place for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Columbus and a number of other Ohio cities also have ordinances that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, The Columbus Dispatch reported.

Canton Mayor William Healy said diversity is helping his city grow.

"If there's any companies out there looking for a great place to be welcomed, call me," he said Wednesday. "I'll take care of you."