Miami-Dade mayor says partnerships, technology will move county forward

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez will deliver his annual speech to the county Thursday, laying out his goals for revving up the local economy, promoting regional cooperation and improving a public transportation system that is, at best, inadequate.

In a wide-ranging interview previewing his state-of-the-county speech, Gimenez told The Miami Herald that he is optimistic about the county’s future, citing improved economic indicators and a record year for business at Miami International Airport and PortMiami, two major economic engines.

“I think we’re a hot commodity, and people are starting to see our potential,” he said. “We just need to keep our eye on the ball.”

Unlike his first speech a year ago, the political pressure is off this time for Gimenez, who in August was elected to his first full term in office. His first year amounted to a red-shirt season, completing the term of former Mayor Carlos Alvarez, who was ousted in a 2011 recall.

In Thursday’s speech, to be delivered at Liberty City’s Joseph Caleb Center, Gimenez will announce the creation of an advisory group to study rising property-insurance rates and make recommendations about how to lobby state lawmakers on the issue. The Florida Legislature regulates Citizens Property Insurance, the state’s insurer of last resort, which recently increased homeowners’ insurance rates and scaled back coverage.

“We’re going to look at why our people here are getting slammed,” Gimenez said.

A similar task force made recommendations last month to improve the county elections process. The county, however, generally has more control over elections than over property insurance.

The mayor will also promote an initiative — begun with Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho and already underway — to prevent youth violence. And he will tout a new partnership announced Wednesday in which the county will take part in technology giant IBM’s Smart cities program, which lets local governments test and use software to better analyze municipal data.

Among his successes in office, Gimenez will mention streamlining permitting at some county agencies — in some cases by three months, he said — posting employee salaries online and providing internships in his office to college students.

Looking to spur entrepreneurship and create local jobs, Gimenez’s administration also has committed $1 million in funding over four years to Launch Pad, in conjunction with the University of Miami. Launch Pad is a public/private partnership that introduces young technology businesses to each other to help them grow.

In his speech, the mayor will also throw his support behind Endeavor, a global nonprofit that works to accelerate entrepreneurship in metropolitan areas. The organization plans to set up shop in Miami after receiving a $2 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Taking the long view, Gimenez said he hopes to make it easier for commuters to take public transportation between Miami Beach and the mainland and from Kendall to the urban core. The mayor said he doesn’t have any specific plans yet — or money to finance them — but said that clogged streets are getting in the way of residents’ productivity.

By way of example, Gimenez said he left County Hall in downtown Miami at 5 p.m. on a recent afternoon for a 6:30 p.m. event at the Hammocks, in West Kendall.

“I didn’t make it,” he said. “I can’t imagine your having to do that every day. We’re wasting time. We’re spending money. We’re spending gas.”

For those and other big-ticket improvements, including looming, extensive water-and-sewer piping that will have to be replaced soon because it is so antiquated, Gimenez said Miami-Dade won’t be able to count on much state or federal financial aid. Instead, there will be some water-rate hikes in coming years, he said, and future transportation projects might be partnerships involving heavy private-sector investments.

“More and more, it’s likely that we’re going to have to do these things ourselves,” he said.

Better than going at it alone, Gimenez said, would be teaming up with counties with similar issues to share ideas and work together for funding and state support. To that end, Gimenez had dinner last year in St. Petersburg with the mayors of Jacksonville, Orlando and Tampa. He also has hosted the mayors of Broward and Palm Beach counties to brainstorm ways to work together.

“People have been very good and very successful at dividing us, and we’ve done that to ourselves,” Gimenez said. “We should have a lot more in common than we have differences.”