Apple Brawl: Rejected in Texas, Computer Maker Wooed Elsewhere
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) _ Apple Computer Inc. has been swamped with invitations to build from communities nationwide since a Texas county spurned its expansion plan because the company grants benefits to partners of gay employees.
The computer maker also said it was committed to maintaining the policy, one of a growing number of corporations that have broadened coverage to include gay partners.
The conflict between Apple and Williamson County near Austin has become a symbol of the gay-rights movement’s growing influence as well as a backlash against it, even at the expense of new jobs and prosperity.
County commissioners voted 3-2 this week to deny Apple a tax break it had sought to build an $80 million sales support center that would employ 700 people. Commissioners cited Apple’s benefits package as the reason.
One commissioner said the policy runs counter to ″traditional family values,″ while another said he could not have walked into his church if he had voted for the tax break.
Apple has said it is now reconsidering its decision to build there, and said other jurisdictions are actively seeking the center in their areas.
Apple officials ″have been deluged with inquiries both within Texas and across the United States from counties and communities interested in talking to us,″ Lisa Byrne, said a spokeswoman for the Cupertino-based company.
Officials in Oregon, Colorado, Arizona, other parts of California and ″many many″ parts of Texas have approached the company since the vote, she said Friday.
Apple already has 700 workers at three leased sites in Austin, and planned to transfer them to Williamson County. That plan is not yet dead, and discussions continue with the county.
″What we’re focused on is seeing if we can keep the dialogue open with the officials of Williamson County. We would like to exhaust all our options there before we look at another site,″ Byrne said.
Apple had told the county that if it decided to expand the center, it could create 500 jobs by 1998 and 500 more jobs by 2001. County officials estimated the indirect impact of the construction and the new white-collar employees moving in at 4,000 new jobs.
Apple adopted its policy extending benefits to the same-sex partners of homosexual employees on July 1.
It offers medical and dental coverage and extended family services such as adoption assistance, sick leave, family leave, a health and fitness program and bereavement leave.
″We don’t feel that we’re in the business of defining what a family is,″ Byrne said. ″But we want to treat all our employees with respect and fairness.″
Since Tuesday’s vote, Apple supporters in Austin have criticized the commission, saying that local officials should not tell companies how to run their businesses.
Business, political and economic development officials rallied in Austin on Friday in support to Apple.
″We want Apple to know that we are absolutely committed to do everything possible to support and reaffirm their presence in Austin,″ Mayor Bruce Todd said in a message to Apple officials.
″Already, Apple has become an important part of the fabric of our community. The diversity of Apple’s work force reflects Austin’s diversity, and we’ve always believed that is one of our greatest strengths.″
Williamson County Commissioner Jerry Mehevec, one of the three who voted against the tax breaks, said he still wanted to negotiate with the company to locate there, but added, ″Williamson County is entitled to the opinion that family values are important.″
In recent years, an increasing number of companies have adopted policies similar to Apple’s, though some are aimed at unmarried partners of company employees regardless of sexual orientation.
For example, San Francisco-based Levi Strauss adopted its policy 18 months ago.