Transportation, infrastructure and sea-level rise were among the concerns on the opening day of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce’s 46th annual Goals Conference, which began Monday at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables.
About 1,000 members turned out for the start of the two-day conference, where executives from business, government and not-for-profit agencies seek to set the year’s agenda for economic development and community improvement. Much of the event was dedicated to specific areas of banking and finance, healthcare, real estate, education and sustainability.
But at the forefront were concerns about what Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez called the “backbone” of the county: infrastructure.
“In order to support our growth in a way that is sustainable, we need effective mobility solutions that will provide greater connectivity throughout our community and beyond,” Gimenez said in an address. “We also need to get people out of their cars, out of traffic.”
Incoming chamber chair Tony Argiz also spoke about the need to improve transportation. That, along with issues related to rising seas and their impact on the community and economy, will be the focus for his year as the chamber’s leader, he said.
Creating incentives for employees to use alternative systems, such as Metrorail and People Mover, could help alleviate congestion and traffic issues, Argiz said. More roads will only lead to more cars on the road.
The words “global city” were often heard at Monday’s meeting. The first step to assuring Miami’s world-city status, said many speakers, is improving infrastructure.
“People are going to get shocked down the road in two or three years when their insurance companies send them renewal notices of 20 and 25 percent and they are going to have to pay it,” Argiz said. And that could drive both businesses and residents away from the region.
Also critical, said Gimenez: putting a stopper to the “brain drain.”
“With over 380,000 students in the metropolitan area, Miami is among the Top 10 college towns in America,” Gimenez said. “The brain power that will drive our future economy is already here. We just need to make sure it stays here.”
The annual gathering is also part year-in-review, appreciation for the outgoing chair (this year, Alberto Dosal) and part rally. A humorous video caps each year’s opening session; this year’s riffed on Miami’s “awesomeness”' and included a soccer stadium floating in Biscayne Bay — a reference to David Beckham's proposed waterfront soccer stadium.
“We’d love to have David Beckham with a soccer team in this town,” said chairman Argiz. “In terms of the location, we aren’t going to take a position on that.”
Other speakers sought to dodge the subject when asked their views. But in an interview, Gimenez said he found a poll published Monday by the Miami Herald indicated split public opinion encouraging because, he believes, many of those who say they don’t want the stadium in downtown Miami want it closer to their own neighborhoods. As to whether the stadium will become a reality, he said, “I don't know.” He will continue to work to bring the stadium to Miami, he said.
More pressing issues dominated the breakout sessions and general meetings on critical issues. Among the topics raised were the diminishing number of Miami banking institutions, the need for better primary medical care delivery, and recognition of downtown as the county’s primary economic driver.
The conference will continue on Tuesday with workshops on governmental affairs, professional and workforce development, sports, technology and international business.
Said chamber president Barry Johnson, “Everything we thought Miami would be, it’s becoming, right before our very eyes. That doesn’t mean we don’t have our challenges — we certainly do — but a lot of fabulous things are happening in Miami. Everything is awesome.”