President Donald Trump’s threat to pull the Republican National Convention from Charlotte, North Carolina is gut wrenching for Ayman Abusamak.
The president of A Step Above Limousine in Charlotte is counting on the GOP mega event to boost his business after the coronavirus pandemic wounded his fleet during a normally busy time of year, when proms and graduations can help the transportation company’s bottom line.
But after seeing Trump’s tweet pondering whether to take the party’s business elsewhere, Abusamak is fretting about how deeply the move could wound the city trying to move forward during the public health crisis, and what his company would do without the business he expected the RNC to bring in.
“It’s going to be devastating if that does occur,” Abusamak said of Trump’s threat, warning if the president followed through “it's going to cripple us.”
“If we don't get this RNC, then our whole future is gone,” Abusamak said. “The future of our industry is gone in this area.”
Trump’s Memorial Day morning tweet, where he criticized North Carolina’s Democratic governor for being “still in Shutdown mood,” and raised the idea of the RNC leaving if the convention isn’t “allowed to be fully occupied,” sparked weariness and concern from businesses in the southern city that were anticipating a windfall later this summer.
And the potentially dire economic implications of his earlier warning wasn’t lost on some area businesses.
“We have plans for events during the convention, so it would have a huge economic impact on us,” said Lauren Shoaf, the director of sales at Charlotte's Essex Bar & Bistro.
Trump maintained the threat during a press conference Tuesday at the White House. He wants a fast decision from North Carolina’s Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who Trump criticized as "acting very, very slowly and very suspiciously."
“We have to know, yeah I would say within a week that certainly we have to know,” Trump said. “Now if he can't do it, if he feels that he's not going to do it, all he has to do is tell us and then we'll have to pick another location. And I will tell you, a lot of locations want it.”
Trump hasn’t been shy about wanting the country to reopen fast during the coronavirus pandemic. But he has also maintained that a major concern of the pandemic era is the hurt businesses and employees are feeling during the crisis.
Yet by raising the idea of abandoning Charlotte in August, Trump managed to draw out even more worry from some businesses, while also setting up the potential of hurting his re-election in a state that may be crucial to his returning to the White House for another term.
It also gave Republicans looking to flex loyalty to Trump another opportunity to do so. Georgia Republican Brian Kemp made sure to say his state's doors were open for the GOP convention if Trump does indeed decide to leave North Carolina behind.
“With world-class facilities, restaurants, hotels, and workforce, Georgia would be honored to safely host the Republican National Convention,” Kemp tweeted at the president Tuesday morning.
According to a fact section on the RNC convention’s website, 50,000 visitors are expected with an estimated economic impact of more than $300 million.
Despite those figures, the president’s twitter warning seemed to do little to alarm North Carolina’s Democratic leader. During a press briefing Tuesday, Cooper cautioned that the virus will still be around come August.
“We want to see from the RNC what their plans are and we have asked them to submit those plans to our public health officials,” Cooper said, adding that he hoped to see a resolution to the issue “that everybody can be reasonable about that puts public health, safety, the science and the facts as the number one thing we’re trying to do here.”
The president’s missive also put some in Charlotte, like Larry Farber, the owner of Middle C Jazz, in a tense position.
His club has been shuttered from the virus since March and is one of the more than a dozen places listed by the GOP event as being official convention venues for the August festivities. Watching the president from afar, Farber is hoping the convention doesn’t leave.
But even though he predicted his club will survive no matter Trump’s decision, Farber believes the convention could help the city in a far reaching way.
“Almost like a stimulus package, more so than anything the government could have provided us through (the Paycheck Protection Program) or any small business loan that they're doing,” Farber said.