How is the economy? Ask a taxi driver!

Last week I gave a state of the state of the publishing industry as seen through the eyes of literary agents. Today I want to enlarge the scope of my reporting to discuss the state of the New York City economy. Spending most of a week in NY tells you a great deal about the economy there, and New York City is definitely a great indicator about how business is doing across the country.

Whenever I am in NY City I ask the cab drivers “How is business?” The simple three-word question usually sets off a torrent of information that follows is more helpful than all of the white papers and blogs that I read from financial professionals. Sometimes I can understand the driver, sometimes I can’t. Part of it is the thick partition between us and the other part is the accents of the drivers that come from any one of 60 countries.

The biggest message I got is that business stinks, and it has for some time. One driver explained that around Christmas, he usually can’t get anywhere because of all of the congestion. But this past Christmas, New York was just not the same. He said he could get anywhere quickly, as if NY City was a ghost town. And business has been slow since. I never waited more than 30 seconds for a taxi, which tells you something about the taxi industry. 

As for other indicators: New York City hotel prices have dropped from the truly audacious to the just-about affordable. For example, I stayed at a W Hotel that had slashed its prices in half, to around $279 per night. I asked for a corner room in advance and they upgraded me for free to a truly spectacular view of Times Square (and I have no status or club membership in W Hotels). 

As for other signs of the times, all of the layoffs in the financial sector and other industries have really taken their toll. To encourage foreign companies to come to his city to set up shop, Mayor Bloomberg announced an international campaign designed to lure financial companies (e.g. insurance and commercial banks) to New York. The campaign is aimed at the countries that we are supposed to be afraid of because they are stealing our jobs: China, India, and other developing countries.

The upshot of the story: this is actually a great time to visit NY. You will be able to get cheap air fares (mine was around $239 round trip from Chicago), a great price on a hotel, a taxi whenever you want, a reservation in most any restaurant, and a quick ticket to your favorite Broadway show. You and your family will have a great time and you will be helping the economy at the same time. Lastly, one cab driver summarized it nicely when he said that we will “come out of this” and business will boom again. He explained that he has been driving a cab in NY for 27 years and that “we always come out of it, and almost always stronger than before.”    

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