A Miami day of achievements that mostly went unheralded
Written by Michael Lewis on January 28, 2015
The barrage of bad news that hits us from every side every day has so jaundiced Miamians that it’s hard to realize that most of what is going on around us – the things that directly affect us and our community – is actually positive.
Is it human nature that makes us look at the glass half empty instead of far more than half full?
Or is it media that only seem to select as news negative aberrations from the norm?
When, after all, did you last see or hear the main news report in any medium that said in essence “Boy, is it a great day in Miami!” You’d have to go back to our last major sports championship.
Maybe that’s why news seems unrelated to our lives and experiences and why most protagonists in the news seem venal, shady and worse. Those are kinds of people in kinds of situations we seldom personally encounter – thank goodness.
But those negative portrayals of politicians and public figures, businesses and communities will over time color our views of them and – to some extent – everything outside of our own smallish circle of family and friends.
How, we might ask ourselves, can everyone we don’t directly touch be so different from us and so much worse in every way?
The answer is that the differences between us all – and the gulfs between us – aren’t as great as the media make them out to be by focusing on the aberrant and the controversial and the brutal rather than the 99%-plus of people who are far more admirable and – naturally – far more like us.
What led me down this path about the “us” that we know who are decent, normal and caring and the despicable “them” that we hear and see in mass media was a single evening in Miami – last Thursday, to be precise.
It was a prototypical “Boy, is it a great day in Miami” experience.
We were privileged to be with a hundred or so Miamians standing at the east side of the Pérez Art Museum Miami, a great physical and cultural addition to Miami now just over a year old, enjoying a 73-degree breeze off Biscayne Bay and a million-dollar view, listening to every third person tell us that this was a chamber of commerce evening in January if ever there was one.
If you ever wanted to impress out-of-towners, that was the time and place.
And powerful out-of-towners were there. The occasion was a break in a board retreat for American Airlines. and the entire board was enjoying – and impressed.
Naturally, community leaders wanted to welcome American’s leaders. Here was one of Miami’s top employers with 11,000 on the local payroll that added 1,300 workers here after its corporate merger, flies 70% of the flights at a growing and improving airport that is our number-one economic engine, and plans to add more destinations that will bring added tourism, business and investment here.
American has been growing like crazy here for 25 years. If ever Miami had a corporate growth story to trumpet, this is it. If you haven’t heard about this gathering until now, that proves the point of what gets headlines in Miami.
Present and accepting personal congratulations along with American’s leaders was Bill Johnson. That day the governor had tapped him to run the state’s economic development organization, Enterprise Florida.
Can you recall another Miamian in recent years positioned to remember his adopted home town – because he’s not leaving – when it comes time to lure significant business to Florida?
As our profile of Mr. Johnson noted a month ago when he was running the county’s overstressed water and sewer operations, he’s been at the center of economic development posts here for years. He just left a job running our seaport. He was once interim airport director. He made sure the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts was properly built. Basically, he got handed vital jobs in difficult moments to turn them around – and he did.
His selection for the key state job is encouraging news for us.
It was that kind of night. Mayor Carlos Gimenez honored American with a formal presentation – you’d expect that. But it was clear that he realizes the pivotal role that a growing hub of a growing global airline leader can and does play here.
A Miami director of the airline, Alberto Ibargüen, who heads another major Miami asset, the Knight Foundation – which is leveraging a combination of tact and big money to help move our economy into a new information and technological driven paradigm – also highlighted the importance of American’s growth to Miami. So did visiting Chairman W. Douglas Parker.
It was such a feel-good night, from weather to image to hopes for future economic growth. So good that Bill Talbert, CEO of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, which sells visiting Miami to the world, could only have been happier if someone had also mentioned the remarkable cooperation between Miami-Dade County and Miami Beach that in two days last month pushed forward development of a revamped and enlarged convention center for the community.
That spirit of cooperation rather than conflict needed an attaboy that nobody had given it, Mr. Talbert said. The revamped center, talked about for decades, will – like American’s growth and Mr. Johnson’s appointments – provide a major jolt of economic energy here.
So, attaboy it is, to the governments that cooperated and the added convention business that’s sure to come with improved facilities.
Thursday was that kind of day – recognizing people, companies and even governments that have done well.
If the mark of true integrity is doing good things when nobody is looking, as novelist and essayist C.S. Lewis (no relation) wrote, Miami seemed at that moment to be loaded with integrity, not negatives.
The only negative is that far more of our focus ought to be on those good things. The old definition of news as man biting dog – aberration with some nastiness thrown in – needs updating. Mr. Ibargüen and Mr. Talbert, both students of the media, would no doubt agree.
Boy, was it a great day in Miami!
And now, back to the news.