Any discussion regarding economic development in Miami-Dade County must focus on actions that will create a climate for the opportunities that will lead to jobs. This is especially important given recent news that the county’s unemployment numbers are climbing toward double digits.
I support Mayor Carlos Gimenez’ efforts to unleash the entrepreneurial power of our community, creating the businesses of tomorrow and “realigning our existing jobs and economic development programs to elevate these new economic pillars.”
My involvement with job creation dates back to my public-service work in post-Hurricane Andrew recovery efforts. Today, I am the mayor’s representative on the board of directors of the Beacon Council where I serve as an advisor to the key players in this public/private partnership.
It is clear that the Beacon Council must add “business creation” to its mission of attraction and retention, becoming a start-up incubator and accelerator, acting with government and the private sector to make these new businesses real.
The Beacon Council also needs more CEOs and entrepreneurs to serve as idea creators for policies and action, and a new leader who is capable of understanding our county’s unique multi-cultural character. Interim president Robin Reiter should be applauded for leadership and immediate efforts at greater transparency.
A successful business climate is made up in part by investments in infrastructure and education, research and development, and support for commercialization of scientific innovations. These policies should not target firms of any specific size, but are likely to generate market opportunities that contribute to the formation of small businesses where most new jobs are created.
Interest from creative entrepreneurs points to Miami as an emerging high-tech community. The activity around the UM Life Science and Technology Park as a meeting point for technology brainstorming is a case study toward what Mayor Gimenez envisions as Tech Beach. Local entrepreneur Manny Medina has already started the Technology Foundation of the Americas to make Miami the tech hub of this hemisphere. And the Knight Foundation, through its Endeavor Miami program, is also making investments in unleashing this creative energy.
To continue moving forward, there are several action items the Beacon Council and county must act on quickly:
• EB-5 Immigrant Investor Regional Center. This will increase investment by making it easier for foreigners to invest in Miami. The city of Miami is currently working with Enterprise Florida, Port Miami, the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and the Visitors Bureau on this effort.
• Invest the $90 million Economic Development Fund. In 2004, voters approved a fund for investment in targeted areas. There are “game changing” opportunities awaiting final approval such as modernizing the urban core and Flagler Street. Working with the Downtown Development Authority (DDA), the urban core must continue its modernization, with its signature avenue, Flagler Street, refurbished to further continue the transformation of downtown Miami into a residential and business area.
• Landing the Miami Air Show. Following meetings this June, it is time to land this event that could pull in about 200,000 attendees and generate up to $100 million, spurring businesses that serve the aerospace industry. Opa-locka and Tamiami airports, along with Homestead Air Reserve base are all potential locations.
• Continue investment in the U.M. Life Science Park. Building on the successful technology and innovation incubator anchored by the University of Miami, we must increase investment to bring about the next phase of the Life Science Park.
• Miami: Where Worlds Meet Campaign. As the mayor puts together his budget proposal, it is important that funding be included for this campaign to promote the county worldwide. American Airlines, the Visitors Bureau, PortMiami, MIA, DDA and Baptist Health South Florida are all part of this successful partnership.
All these investments allow us to leverage additional private and public funds, creating more opportunities for jobs.
Ultimately, we must embrace solutions that are working throughout the country, while capitalizing on the variables that make us unique. New ideas in economic expansion must take root in government, led by new expertise in the county mayor’s office, with an increased staff focus on these strategies.
It is up to all of us to strike a balance between helping the businesses we have here and helping people start businesses that create the opportunities of tomorrow. Thinking this way tackles both the short-term need of job creation with the long-term goal of making Miami-Dade County an innovation hub where the jobs of tomorrow will be created. Short-term needs can co-exist with our long-term vision.
Jorge Luis Lopez is a government affairs attorney.