NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Next week, I head out on a two-week vacation. With pit stops in two of North America's greatest cities -- New York and Toronto -- I will spend most of my time in Niagara Falls, USA. That's my hometown.I haven't been back in two years. And while I hear things have improved, that's what they always say. I still expect Main Street's whitewashed windows and vacant stores. In many ways, Springsteen's classic "My Hometown" is about Niagara Falls:
They're closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks/Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they ain't coming back to your hometown.My Dad is one of the lucky ones. He received a pension from Union Carbide when the plant closed down. I still remember him coming home with his clothes full of soot. When the plant closed, he could have moved, become a drunk or sat around collecting unemployment. Instead, he picked up work on the side -- like he always has -- and landed a better full-time job that allowed him to pay the house off ahead of schedule and retire comfortably. My Dad is among a few exceptions to the rule. As kids, another Springsteen line took on meaning for me and my friends as we sat underneath the bridge on Hyde Park Boulevard drinking beer: It's a town full of losers and I'm pulling out of here to win. To be fair, plenty of my high school friends have carved out nice lives for themselves in Niagara Falls and the more vibrant surrounding areas of Western New York, particularly the City of Buffalo and its suburbs. But, at day's end, for many of us, we absolutely had to get out of Niagara Falls while we were young.
Missed OpportunitiesBecause Niagara Falls -- and dozens of other places just like it -- has always, by and large, lacked progressive leadership and a progressive population, it has missed a ton of opportunity. Errant sociopolitical views often lead to missed opportunities. Social conservatism -- a hallmark of my hometown -- tends to stifle innovation. Populations that refuse to open their minds to 2012's realities leave quite a bit of potential on the table in the name of staying in their outdated comfort zones.
When we compared these two lists with more statistical rigor, his Gay Index turned out to correlate very strongly to my own measures of high-tech growth. Other measures I came up with, like the Bohemian Index -- a measure of artists, writers, and performers -- produced similar results.A decade later -- with quite a bit of more qualitative and anecdotal evidence in between -- it appears Florida might have been onto something. Witness this Newser story from Tuesday morning -- Gay Marriage Pays: NYC Pulls in $259M in 2011:
Talented people seek an environment open to differences. Many highly creative people, regardless of ethnic background or sexual orientation, grew up feeling like outsiders, different in some way from most of their schoolmates. When they are sizing up a new company and community, acceptance of diversity and of gays in particular is a sign that reads "non-standard people welcome here."
Critics of gay marriage bash its societal costs, but apparently it pays pretty well, too, with New York City pulling in a tidy $259 million last year. In the first year that same-sex marriage has been legal in New York, 8,200 marriage licenses for gay couples were issued -- nearly 11% of all marriages in the city -- and more than 200,000 guests traveled to New York to attend same-sex wedding receptions, reports Bloomberg.When I saw that, I immediately told my wife about the story. We often have conversations about Niagara Falls as well as gay marriage. Two of our very best friends are a lesbian couple and raise three children in the San Francisco Bay Area. Having lived in San Francisco for many years, we were basically on that island the conservative evangelists often go on and on about. We were literally surrounded by gays and lesbians. The lesbian couple next door to us owned their building, lived in one unit and rented out the other two. They have two kids. The lady next door to her used to babysit our daughter when she was little. Her partner just ended a (thankfully) successful battle against breast cancer. I provide these mini-vignettes because they quickly drive home a point that has changed more than a few opinions on homosexuality and, more specifically, gay marriage. Gays and lesbians are just like the rest of us in most ways -- they face the same struggles and have similar goals and objectives in life. Often, they contribute to society and the economy at a level on par with, and often above, the typically successful straight person.
... The $259 million estimate also includes 235,000 hotel room nights, booked at an average of $275 per night.