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November 26, 2006

« War for talent | Main | Great creative class debate »

Here's a piece by me and Gary Gates that ran in today's New York Daily News.

Some New Yorkers take New Jersey for granted. Sure, it's a great place to go to the beach, shop at Ikea or see a football game. But take people, money and buzz away from the Big Apple? It'll never happen.

Yet the Garden State may finally be on its way to turning the tables on its big brother - thanks to, of all things, a court decision.

Last month, of course, New Jersey's Supreme Court paved the way for giving same-sex partners equal rights, giving lawmakers 180 days to rewrite marriage laws to either include same-sex couples or create a new system of civil unions for them.

This will be a big deal - not just for same-sex couples, but for New Jersey's economy.

Why? Because, despite some rumblings in Albany, New York is likely to be years away from allowing same-sex marriage or civil unions. That will give Jersey a serious competitive advantage in attracting gay couples and the economic benefits associated with their calling a place home.

A forthcoming study by UCLA's Williams Institute finds that revenue from weddings and wedding tourism alone (if the Jersey legislature approves marriage, not civil unions) would add nearly $103 million per year in business to the state for at least the next few years.

But the economic impact could go way beyond that. Our research on what makes cities and regions grow shows that urban economic vitality today turns on openness to new ideas, new people and different lifestyles. Artistic, technological and cultural innovators and the more than 40 million workers who are part of what we call "the creative class" are drawn to places that are diverse and tolerant.

And when they settle somewhere, these people, who tend to have disposable income to spend in restaurants, bars and coffee shops, attract more of each other and fuel all kinds of economic activity.

Yes, Manhattan has long been seen as a powerful beacon of tolerance and a magnet of artistic and cultural innovation. That's what enabled the city's rise and resurgence as a world center of not just finance but art, design, fashion and entertainment.

But success has also brought its costs. Housing and rents have skyrocketed, and a growing numbers of the foot soldiers of the creative class have been forced out of Manhattan. Now, people are getting priced out of Park Slope, Williamsburg and Astoria, too. Neighborhoods are in a quiet contest, jockeying to be open, vibrant and affordable alternatives in which this creative class can live and work.

As we speak, much of the shift has benefited Brooklyn, the new creative hot spot of New York. But what about the next center? Could theaters, music clubs and Internet startups cluster in Jersey City or Newark?

With its coming leap ahead of New York on gay rights, the smart money just may have moved to New Jersey.

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