Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Gay Marriage, Economic Development, and The Case for Inclusive Communities

By Ryan Regan, Project Associate

On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court handed down an historic 5-to-4 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which declared that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage. It is most appropriate and perhaps serendipitous that this long-sought victory for the gay rights movement in the United States was delivered during LGBT Pride Month and just days before the 46th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York. The morality of same-sex marriage has been and will be debated ad nauseam, but this blog post isn’t meant to wade into those waters. Instead, the purpose of this post is to make the case that tolerant, open, and inclusive communities are a step ahead of their peers in competing for jobs and talent in the 21st century. 

Dr. Richard Florida is a noted American urban studies theorist who is most well-known for his research around the “Creative Class,” a phrase he coined to describe the knowledge-based workers that he posited would be key to economic prosperity in a post-industrial world. Florida argues that the “three t’s” – talent, technology, and tolerance – are necessary foundational principles that communities must embrace in order to remain competitive in a new economy that is increasingly tied to high-tech sectors. 

The idea around the tolerance part of the equation is that talented knowledge workers who are driving the new economy are increasingly young, diverse, and tolerant, and these workers desire to live and work in communities that are accepting of their open-mindedness. When laid out that way, the tie between community economic development and marriage equality is quite clear, and I am not the only one who has noticed this before. 

While serving as governor of Rhode Island, recent 2016 presidential race entrant, Lincoln Chafee (D-RI), signed the Marriage Equality Act into law in 2013 in part on the basis that the legislation would bring economic development benefits to the state. His op-ed to the New York Times from 2013 cited Richard Florida’s “three t’s,” and Chafee went on to further state: “The talented workers who are driving the new economy — young, educated and forward-looking — want to live in a place that reflects their values. They want diversity, not simply out of a sense of justice, but because diversity makes life more fun. Why would any state turn away the people who are most likely to create the economies of the 21st century?” 

The business community understands the tie between diversity and inclusion and recruiting a talented workforce. As a whole, the business community has been unequivocal in their support for marriage equality. There were 379 corporations and employer organizations to sign on to an employers’ amicus brief to the Supreme Court urging the court to strike down state bans on gay marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges. Chambers of commerce from Durham to San Antonio to Seattle and plenty of places in between have since lauded the Supreme Court’s ruling. Recall that earlier this year major employers in Indiana along with the Indianapolis Chamber and the Indiana Chamber were vocal in their opposition to the original version of a controversial “religious freedom” bill that some argued could lead to discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community. 

Communities that have embraced public policies that value diversity & inclusion, including gay-friendly policies, are flourishing throughout the country and that is no coincidence. San Francisco and Austin are arguably the most gay-friendly cities in the country, and they check in at #1 and #2 respectively on the Milken Institute’s 2014 List of Best-Performing Cities. San Francisco is home to the Golden Gate Business Association (GGBA), the nation’s first LGBT Chamber of Commerce, and the Austin Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce is noteworthy in its own right, boasting over 350 members and over 10,000 “likes” on the Chamber’s Facebook page. Forward-thinking cities like San Francisco and Austin understand the value of opening their community’s doors to the types of workers that will be key to maintaining economic competitiveness in the 21st century. 

Communities looking to remain competitive for talented workers and high-quality jobs need to be mindful about how the country’s evolving diversity affects their local community economic development strategies. Consider the fact that more than one-in-three American workers are Millennials (ages 18-34) and this generation recently surpassed Gen Xers (ages 35-50) as the largest generation in the U.S. workforce, according to a Pew Research Center study released earlier this year. Millennials are not just more racially diverse than all other generations, but perhaps more importantly, they embrace diversity and inclusion in a manner that transcends all other generations before them. Pew Research Center data from just last month noted that 73 percent of Millennials support same-sex marriage – by far the highest percentage of all U.S. generations. It is these workers who will define the U.S. economy for the foreseeable future. Communities looking to attract these young, bright minds have to be cognizant of the open-minded social values that this generation embraces. 

The only constant in life is change, and this mindset is beneficial to keep in mind across all walks of life, including the work we do at Market Street. The country continues to change and so too must your community’s approach to community economic development.