Tuesday, 1 September 2009

ADN: Equal rights for gays will improve economy

30.8.9 by Bob Poe

I support equal rights for all people. And I support banning discrimination in Anchorage due solely to someone's sexual orientation. I support a comprehensive equal rights ordinance because it's the right thing to do, period.

But if doing the right thing isn't a compelling enough reason, here is an economic reason.

In the best-selling book, "The Rise of the Creative Class," Richard Florida points out successful, growing communities are places accepting of gay and lesbian people. Florida, originally a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, has been studying successful and unsuccessful communities throughout his career. He combined his work with that of Gary Gates from UCLA, who co-authored the Gay and Lesbian Atlas. Their combined work developed a "gay index" that was strongly correlated with economically successful and growing communities. They weren't really looking to prove this concept; it is simply what the data showed.

They believe the more accepting a community is to new ideas, alternative lifestyles, new art and music, the more accepting it will be to the entrepreneurial geeks who have created companies like Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and hundreds of other businesses. And communities that are open to progressive ways of thinking are measurably more attractive to the smart, well-educated workforce, particularly women. The logic goes, if a place is safe for gay men, it is a safe place for women.

But you might say, Silicon Valley/San Francisco (gay index #1) and Seattle (gay index #2) would naturally attract high-tech companies. Not really. It was Stanford University that probably had the most to do with Silicon Valley becoming a high-tech center. And Seattle only really began to evolve in the last 15 years, and Microsoft is primarily in Seattle because Bill Gates was from there. But critical to the success of these areas was the ability to attract a creative and talented workforce.

The research Florida and Gates did doesn't indicate that a community decided to be open minded and then the economic progress flowed in, but it does show progressive communities attract talent and creativity, two things Anchorage and Alaska could use plenty more of. In contrast, Pittsburgh, the home of Carnegie Mellon University, is the least gay-friendly community. The city still produces smart, creative people through its many great universities, but they quickly lose these graduates to other more attractive communities. Others near the bottom include Detroit, Birmingham and Oklahoma City.

Through the Alaska Scholars Program, in large part, the University of Alaska is now retaining Alaska's best and brightest and by doing so is raising the quality of a UA degree significantly. Just this year, a UAA student became a Marshall Scholar, just one of 40 in the country. We need to be able to keep these graduates here and attract others from communities that don't offer what Anchorage can.

Anchorage is becoming a real city, perhaps even destined to be the next great West Coast city, but it needs to guard against the attitudes that would hold us back. Anchorage would not be what it is today without the Performing Arts Center, the First Friday art gallery walk, a variety of music venues, Saturday Market, the Dena'ina Center, City Market, or even a downtown disc golf course. All of these are examples of things that make a city better, one that is growing. Being open to new ideas, different lifestyles, new and different ways to embrace life is important to a bright future here. But to get there we need the right attitude first.

I support equal rights for every person because it is the right thing to do. I also support this ordinance because it can help Anchorage attract the talented people it will need to build its future as a great place to live and work for all of us.

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