Long-time South Floridians may think of Al Dotson Jr. as the son of Miami business and civic leader Al Dotson, the first black chair of the Orange Bowl Committee and a past chair of the board of Florida International University.
Many of the region’s younger influencers may not know the father at all. To them, the junior is a sharp legal mind and civic leader in his own right. A partner and executive-committee member of Miami-based Bilzin Sumberg, Dotson Jr. leads the 100-lawyer firm’s government relations and land development practice. For clients, that means far more than dotting fine legal points; it includes strategic development and negotiation.
Several of his clients are involved in public-private partnerships, including Odebrecht USA, developer of Airport City at Miami International; Wexford Science & Technology, developer of UM’s Life Sciences & Technology Park, and South Beach ACE, which recently won the contract for the new Miami Beach Convention Center.
We querried him about business, civic engagement and Miami’s future.
You went to Dartmouth and Vanderbilt. Why did you come back to Miami to work instead of going someplace that’s typically considered more fertile for black professionals, like Atlanta?
When I was making a decision about where I wanted to live and practice, Miami quickly became my first choice. As a relatively young city of global importance, Miami offered the most opportunity for growth. While Miami lacked the social infrastructure of an Altanta, D.C., N.Y. or L.A., the Miami of the late 1980s offered a clear path to having a significant impact on the community even as a young transplant from another city.
Your dad, Al Dotson, is well known in Miami civic and business quarters. How has that been a plus, and how has it been a drawback?
I was born in Detroit and grew up in Chicago and Atlanta until we moved to Miami in 1976. In each city, I saw my father differentiate himself with his business acumen and distinguish himself through his civic leadership. As his son, I decided to continue his work to create a less obstructed path than the one I traveled to the benefit of my children, nieces, nephews and mentees. Some people may expect certain things from me because of who my father was and I welcome those expectations. I am proud to have a father in whose wake I can travel.
You’ve been living and working here a long time. In your view, what have been the most notable changes, both good and bad?
Miami has reinvented itself many times over. We weathered the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s and the recent great recession. We survived civil unrest but we still have a long way to go. Equal opportunity, equal access to quality education and healthcare still elude us. We rebuilt after Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and repositioned ourselves beyond the gateway to the Americas. We became a global hub of commercial activity for not only Latin America, but Asia, Europe and Africa. This global repositioning is exciting to watch. Miami has flourished because of immigration from the Caribbean and South America. Yet, the strength of our diversity remains underappreciated.
What are the biggest hurdles to Miami fulfilling its potential as a world-class city?
The need to make Miami more attractive to entrepreneurs and to those at the forefront of innovation. We need to become more competitive in that respect. That said, we are making progress. One example is the Knight Foundation-funded “Endeavor" program, a nonprofit that supports young entrepreneurs with the greatest potential to make a difference in the community. There is a direct link between the success of our K - 12 educational system and our community’s ability to attract businesses in terms of the labor pool available to them. We have to position Miami as the innovation capital of the world so as to attract Miamians back to our community. At the same time, we have to entice some of the world’s brightest citizens by making Miami one of their top preferred places to live, work and, yes, relax.