Creation of tri-county economic development strategies gains favor
By Frank Norton
Forging a tri-county economic development strategy is the next step needed to accelerate regional business growth, according to some South Florida leaders.
As one market with one voice, the region could bring political and economic benefits to bear, said Miami-Dade Commissioner Jimmy Morales. It could begin, he said, by creating a marketing plan that pitches the area to investors or companies and plans initiatives such as tri-county trade missions.
Eventually, the vision could lead to naming a person to coordinate Miami-Dade's Beacon Council with similar agencies in the other counties. Or, proponents say, it could combine the three agencies into one body charged with pushing South Florida as an integrated market.
"If we want to become one economic region, then we should market ourselves as one region, pool resources and gain greater economy of scale," Commissioner Morales said.
Part of this regional vision springs from debate over a pending tri-county, no-compete pact in which each county agrees not to give incentives to businesses already settled in the area.
Though each county's economic development group has OK'd the deal, elected officials in Miami-Dade and Broward are debating how to resolve disputes and whether to allow incentives to companies relocating within the area in some cases. Commissioner Morales said he hopes Miami-Dade commissioners can vote by August.
"The next logical step would be to combine the Beacon Council, Broward Alliance and Palm Beach Business Development Board into one body," Commissioner Morales said. "We could show greater mass and capitalize on greater resources."
According to Broward Commissioner Ilene Lieberman, a shared economic development organization has merit.
"We all need to come to grips with the fact that business will up and leave South Florida altogether unless we can find a way to better coordinate together," she said. "In the meantime, the tri-counties should step up efforts to converge on joint marketing strategies."
Joan Goodrich, Broward Alliance acting president & CEO, said other regions use multi-county agencies. The seven-county Tampa Bay Partnership bills itself as the western gateway of Florida high tech and a four-county Metro-Orlando Economic Development Council boasts being the state's fastest-growing entrepreneur and export market.
"We support moving the regional agenda forward," she said, "as it relates to marketing, transportation, education and regional promotion to compete with other destinations."
"I think Jimmy's idea is a good one to be explored," said Palm Beach Commissioner Burt Aaronson. "It would have the same benefits as a mass transit council: more federal and state funding, better ties with corporations and international advantages."
Other officials were skeptical about the viability of a regional group.
Larry Pelton, Palm Beach Business Development Board president, said under one agency voters might not understand where their tax dollars were going. Still, he said, "we would be willing to put some funding into a mutual marketing effort."
Frank Nero, Beacon Council president & CEO, was more optimistic about chances for economic development cooperation.
"If all of this works," he said, referring to the pending regional business pact, "Who knows where it could lead?"