According to a noted economic development expert, New Haven’s homosexual population may indicate a prosperous future for the Elm City.

The Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce held their 2001 Award Dinner Thursday night at the Omni New Haven Hotel to honor local business leaders for notable achievements in their fields. Among the 400 people in attendance were Jorge Perez, president of the Board of Aldermen; Bruce Alexander, vice president of the Office of New Haven and State Affairs; and Tony Rescigno, president of the Chamber of Commerce.

Richard Florida, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, was the keynote speaker at the annual dinner. Florida said areas with large homosexual populations correlate with places that are attractive to highly skilled workers.

“A place that is open and tolerant of the gay population is a place that anyone can make it,” Florida said.

New Haven ranks 65th out of the 250 largest American cities in percentage of homosexual population, Florida said.

Florida said traditional methods of rejuvenating urban centers are no longer effective. Instead, he outlined the three T’s of economic development: technology, talent and tolerance. Cities must improve and market the quality of life to workers instead of focusing on businesses.

“In the past, we chased companies and offered them a boatload of incentives to come to our town,” Florida said. “That doesn’t work anymore.”

Florida said technology firms locate where the creative class lives. Florida defines the creative class as “people who work with their heads, rather than their hands.” Over 40 million Americans belong to the creative class.

The creative class wants a high quality of life, including arts and entertainment, and tolerance for their beliefs. Florida said New Haven ranks just 109th of 250 in percentage of artists and entertainers when compared to other large cities.

Florida said attracting technology corporations to New Haven, such as biotechnology companies, will not be sufficient if the businesses must relocate to where the talent pool lies. He advocated keeping talented college students in town after graduation as crucial to New Haven’s prosperity.

Florida’s 20-minute talk followed the annual award ceremony, held for the first time during dinner hour. Rescigno said Thursday’s dinner meeting was particularly appropriate in light of Connecticut’s current economic downturn.

The first award presented, the Community Leadership Award, went to C. Newton Schenck III ’44. Schenck’s wife Anne and his daughter accepted the award in his place.

Schenck is the senior counsel for Wiggin & Dana law firm and has served as an active New Haven business community member since 1953. He helped organize the Long Wharf Theater, the Audubon arts district, and currently heads the group that oversees the New Haven Green. A 10-minute video presentation outlined Schenck’s dedication to New Haven through the decades.

Yale-New Haven Hospital received the Community Programs Award, and Rep. William Dyson earned the Legislative Leadership Award.

In addition, Bayer Corporation received the Biotechnology Award, and Metaserver, Inc., earned the Information Technology Award. Both companies have ties to New Haven technology sector.

“We looked at many cities, including Boston and New York, but we chose New Haven, and New Haven was the right choice,” said Richard Schultz, Metaserver’s chief economic officer.