By John Boyd Jr.
Last week, Governor Christie withdrew his challenge to legalized gay marriage in New Jersey, and as of Oct. 21 – New Jersey officially became the 14th state to allow gay marriage. While this is a controversial issue, with opponents on the religious right and advocates on the liberal left – one aspect is undeniably true – Gay Marriage is good for business.
A critical corporate site selection factor that our firm monitors is access to a highly skilled work force. Attracting and maintaining the best talent to New Jersey is especially critical, given the nature of our state’s high-tech, white-collar economy. Prior to legalized gay marriage, New Jersey was at a disadvantage to regional states like New York, Connecticut, Maine and Delaware – states that New Jersey competes with daily for new jobs and corporate investment.
Companies like Starbucks, Microsoft and Amazon have been behind-the-scenes advocates of initiatives throughout the country to permit gay marriage. Why? Because these companies recognize the need to attract and maintain the best talent.
In addition to the work force element, there is branding value in a state not being seen as hostile to gay marriage. In North Carolina, for example, where the state legislature is in a fierce battle to enact a ban on gay marriage, Bank of America , Duke Energy and Merrill Lynch are warning politicians there to expect North Carolina’s ability to attract new companies and jobs from the Northeast to dramatically decline.
In Indiana, where our firm helped former Governor Mitch Daniels enact historic pro-business right-to-work legislation, a gay marriage ban is sending a completely different message to business. Indianapolis-based pharma giant Eli Lilly has threatened to move operations out of Indiana if the Hoosier State passes a gay marriage ban.
Our European clients – another important target audience for New Jersey’s economic development agencies – are especially cognizant of this issue and they routinely eliminate cities and states that are determined to be hostile to gay marriage. Timing is an issue here as there is a re-shoring trend of jobs back to the U.S. due to soaring labor costs off-shore and new low-cost energy supplies here in the States.
Above and beyond attracting and maintaining the best workers and the branding value of being progressive on this issue is the potential for New Jersey to play a larger role in the $60 billion a year wedding and honeymoon industry.
No doubt, struggling Atlantic City – on the verge of bankruptcy – needs to get a bigger piece of this lucrative wedding cake. Las Vegas , where our firm has been especially active over the years, is rapidly moving towards embracing gay marriage and promoting Sin City as the #1 destination for gays to tie the knot and to honeymoon.
The economic stimulus of gay marriage is impressive. In Nevada, it is projected that legalizing gay marriage would generate $23 million to $52 million in business revenue and $1.8 million to $4.2 million in tax revenue over the next three years. Closer to home, New York City has collected more than $250 million in revenue after lifting the marriage ban last year.
In California – often ahead of the curve in social issues – 37,000 same-sex couples are expected to marry there over the next three years, generating over $490 million in revenue for businesses, according to the Williams Institute, a think tank at UCLA School of Law that studies lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues.
Gov. Christie and New Jersey’s economic development players—which have already been a friend to Atlantic City with online gambling, the planned Palio horse race on the beach, Hurricane Sandy relief and public safety – needs to leverage the new marriage landscape in New Jersey with an eye towards driving more wedding and honeymoon business to Atlantic City which already has the infrastructure to be a national player in the wedding and honeymoon industry.
President Obama was correct when he said that people of goodwill can differ on the question of marriage equality. But looking at gay marriage through the prism of jobs and our economy, no one can conclude that gay marriage won’t be a welcomed boost for New Jersey.
John Boyd, Jr. is the Principal of Princeton, N.J.- based The Boyd Co, Inc. The nationally known firm counsels major corporations where to invest.