Miami’s British Connection

Fifty years ago, Miami was the epicenter of Anglo-American culture as the Fab Four brought Beatlemania here. They filmed their second Ed Sullivan Show, then stayed on to explore South Beach, the 5th Street Gym and meet Cassius Clay, as Muhammad Ali was then known.

Some people think that’s been Britain’s sole impact on the city’s history. We have no shared redcoat or tea party history, like New York or Boston. We didn’t burn down any buildings (we don’t think) as we did the White House in 1812. You commemorate Ponce de Leon, Cinco de Mayo and Carnaval, not Sir Francis Drake or the Mayflower.

I’m one of the first to acknowledge that Britain did not always “get” Miami. On the one hand, Miami has neither been sufficiently “American” or “Forbes 500”. Nor has it been on the right continent to make it on to our “Canning Agenda,” which describes revitalized British engagement in Latin America.

So why does a British diplomat care? It’s simple.

As Miami stirs again — through a surge in downtown redevelopment, upgrades in strategic infrastructure, world class cultural facilities and improving higher education institutions — there’s demand for British culture, sport, education, skills and services. Meanwhile across the pond, there’s growing interest in a global city transitioning from “fun in the sun” to joining the premier tier of 21st century global cities.

How so?

Take sports. Everyone knows about David Beckham’s decision to site a Major League Soccer (MLS) club here. But Coconut Grove has been the winter training facility for the British Olympic sailing team for years. Andy Murray lives and trains here during the winter months in preparation for Grand Slam season.

Lennox Lewis, undisputed heavyweight champion of the world lives in Miami Beach. Premiership football (sorry, soccer) is a yearly fixture at the Sun Life stadium, which this year will host Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool (of which LeBron James is a co-owner). And England will spend 10 days training in Miami before they fly to Brazil for the World Cup this year.

In business, British engineering firm Arup helped build the PortMiami tunnel and the magnificent Pérez Art Museum Miami. Cable and Wireless (communications), Vioearth (renewable energy), Skyscanner (travel), ParkJockey (tech) and BBC Worldwide (media) have all established Miami-based operations in the past 12 months. They join a long list of established British businesses across all sectors in Miami: Diageo, HSBC, Barclays and the University of Manchester’s Business School, to name a few.

In culture, the Royal Shakespeare Company has just completed its production of Antony and Cleopatra (directed by Miamian Tarrell Alvin McCraney) on Miami Beach. War Horse will be staged at the Adrienne Arsht Center in March.

If your tastes are more contemporary, there is still time to catch Tracey Emin’s Angel without You exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art (Emin also lives here part of the year, too) or Hew Locke’s For Those in Peril on the Sea at PAMM. From James Bond (three films made here) to Burn Notice (Gabrielle Anwar), Miami has been a creative destination for British talent.

In education, Britain is partnering with UM, FIU and MDC to host a global higher education conference in April. Not only will 1,200 of the world’s leading educators debate how to ensure that higher education meets student needs and is fit for the 21st century, they will see the tremendous strides made by the community to improve education standards and ascend the rankings of U.S. and world higher education institutions.

And kicking this off will be Britweek 2014 when Miami will turn red, white and blue from March 6-14. The opening gala dinner will honor Marcelo Claure of Brightstar as well as the best of British and Floridian investors and businesses. We’re partnering with eMerge Americas to run a teaser tech event before their great May tech conference.

We’re discussing free trade at PortMiami and will finish with a reception for the creative industries at the SLS hotel on South Beach.

So maybe Miami is a bit more British than it admits?

Miami’s journey to global city is not yet complete. But Britain’s convinced of its potential to be known as much for tech and finance as for sun and beaches. We’re looking forward to taking that journey together.

Kevin McGurgan is the British consul general for Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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