Marketing campaign seen lighting way at Beacon Council
By Jennifer Miller
With a $9 million marketing investment two-thirds from public funds the Beacon Council, Miami-Dade County's economic development arm, will launch a massive campaign and play host to a series of excursions this year to reel in top-notch companies, said Frank Nero, the organization's president and CEO.
"Our mission for 2001 is a singular focus," Mr. Nero said. "We will continue to try to market Miami-Dade locally, nationally and internationally."
The council, to receive a third of the money each year for three years, will use part of the first $3 million to fund a trade show and a site selectors' showcase and conduct business development missions, he said.
Mr. Nero said the funds will also support a first-time, tri-county marketing mission with Broward and Palm Beach counties that includes a trip in April to Silicon Valley in California.
Telecommunication companies and information technology businesses have expressed interest in crossing coasts to South Florida, he said.
Selling points, Mr. Nero said, include two network access points relay stations for the Internet and an increased focus on workforce development.
Also, he said, executives at many west coast companies are tired of sky-high electricity costs and unreliable power sources.
Locally, Mr. Nero said, council representatives, who make a total of about 200 visits to area firms annually, will continue to address concerns voiced by Miami business owners.
For the past five years, Mr. Nero said, the No. 1 point of contention among regional businesses has been workforce training.
Jorge Salazar-Carrillo, professor of economics and director of an economic research center at Florida International University, said unfortunately an insufficient labor force makes it difficult to sell the area to new companies.
"The Beacon Council is really trying to get companies here. But when they come, they come kicking and screaming," he said. "They really don't want to be here. In the end, these companies end up in a few years leaving the area."
Not only is the county suffering from poor workforce training, but unemployment rates, Dr. Salazar said, are still unusually high.
According to Florida labor department statistics for Nov. 30, Miami had the highest unemployment rate 5.5% and highest number of welfare recipients 10,000, a third of the welfare population in the state.
Much of the fault, Dr. Salazar said, lies in an inadequate school system.
But it's hard to cure problems with education and training that result from several factors, including a large immigrant population, he said.
Many new arrivals come from Latin American countries with the worst educational systems outside Africa, Dr. Salazar said.
Another factor affecting education and proper training, he said, is that children who have two working parents are often left unattended after school.
The county school drop-out rate is 35%, Dr. Salazar said.
But ridden with barriers, including poverty rates comparable to Los Angeles and New York, the Miami economy is fairly strong, said Rebecca Rust, manager of labor market statistics for Florida.
"Miami, for the Miami economy, is doing very well," Ms. Rust said. "It's a very large metro area that has a lot of unique characteristics with population demographic groups.
"There are segments that are not enjoying the economic recovery, who we are most concerned with."
Dr. Salazar said he remains skeptical that the job-training and educational system here will get better.
"I think we're heading into lower growth. You can expect unemployment to go up in Miami," he said. "I'm sorry to be so pessimistic, but I'm being frank. I'm seeing people just remaining here and not having a good job. There are students graduating from college making only $15,000-$20,000 a year."
However, Joseph Alfano, executive director of The Training & Employment Council of South Florida, said he remains optimistic about a successfully trained workforce and a solid county economy.
"If we are able to place over 9,000 people in jobs a year, I think this is something that speaks for itself."
Beacon Council statistics show that although Miami-Dade unemployment rates are higher than those of the state as a whole, they are currently the lowest they have been in 12 years.
In 1992, the year of Hurricane Andrew, records show local unemployment at 10% one of the county's worst years. Last year, unemployment rates were about half that level.
Mr. Nero said if all goes well, he expects unemployment rates to either stay put or fall.
He said Miami-Dade has many obstacles to overcome to improve the economic situation but he remains confident it can happen.
Beside workforce improvement, the challenges, Mr. Nero said, include dealing with a perception of the area as a Miami Vice episode, a mere tourist destination with an unstable political arena.
"Miami," he said, "is a city that can do business domestically and internationally, probably more so than any other city in the world. Those cranes that you see around town are testaments that this community is alive and well.