California hedge fund Universa moving its base to Miami

Universa Investments is moving its headquarters from Santa Monica, Calif., to Miami on March 1 to take advantage of the city’s business and tax-friendly policies, Miami’s Downtown Development Authority announced Wednesday.

Universa is the first large hedge fund to make the move since Miami’s DDA began a campaign in May 2013 to lure more financial firms to the city, touting not only Florida’s zero income tax but also Miami’s quality of life as its downtown matures as an international hub for arts and culture.

“This was the first of many groups we spoke with. We are optimistic this will be the first of many great announcements,” said Nitin Motwani, managing principal at Miami World Center and a DDA board member.

Miami, the second-largest banking-and-finance hub in the United States behind New York City, launched its Finance Sector Initiative to attract hedge funds through targeted one-on-one outreach; hosted events in New York, Connecticut and Miami; and partnerships with local finance leaders who are helping with the initiative.

Miami is already home to a handful of prominent hedge funds, mutual funds and private equity firms, including ESL Investments, Everest Capital, Fairholme Capital Management and H.I.G. Capital.

"Financial firms can access the same technology, the same high-quality office space and the same cosmopolitan lifestyle in Miami without paying sky-high income taxes,” said DDA Chairman and Miami City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff.

Mark Spitznagel, founder and CIO of Universa, cited Miami’s favorable tax policies, emerging financial sector and access to Latin American and European investors as primary reasons for the move, and he said he expects other firms to follow suit as local governments elsewhere in the country “tighten their grip” on businesses.

“Florida’s business-friendly policies, which are so different from California's, offer the perfect environment for us as we expand,” he said in a statement.

Universa plans to move into offices in Coconut Grove and expand its workforce to 25 employees from 14 over the next three years.

“This was not an overnight decision by any means,” said Motwani, who chairs the DDA’s Economic Development and Marketing Committee. “There were a number of trips involved by their executives for scouting houses, scouting schools for their kids and scouting office space, as well as experiencing the quality of life, the arts and culture of downtown Miami,” he said, citing the Perez Art Museum Miami and the Miami Heat by name.