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Front Page » Opinion » Small Events Dot Miamis Roadmap To Economic Growth

Small Events Dot Miamis Roadmap To Economic Growth

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Written by on February 16, 2006

By Michael Lewis
Just before next year’s Super Bowl kicks off its tourist spending here, we’ll host a little-known event that, in concert with diverse other under-the-radar visits, offers us similar economic rewards.

The 14th edition of the Miami International Map Fair scheduled for Jan. 27-28, 2007, is being shifted from its usual February dates because the Super Bowl will block it out of needed hotel rooms.

The 41st edition of the Super Bowl, seen globally, may lure 100,000 visitors in February. As this week’s interview with Al Dotson Jr. on page 4 makes clear, the game will enhance Miami’s visibility and fill hotel beds.

Also packing economic clout but largely unsung, however, are hundreds of small events here that lack the Super Bowl’s glitter but still enhance our global allure.

Take the map fair. It’s no Super Bowl. Still, it’s a super event whose impact is echoed in many gatherings every month.

The fair is impressive on several fronts.

First, it’s homegrown. Joseph Fitzgerald started 13 years ago by inviting a speaker from London, getting three Florida map dealers to come and gathering 55 people. Total cost: $127.

Today, it is the world’s largest map fair with 54 dealers, four more than the London fair. As one visiting dealer said, "It’s gotten to a point where if you’re serious about maps, you need to be here." Call it the Super Bowl of mapdom.

Second, it brings to Miami interests more cultural and introspective than will be evident at Dolphins Stadium for the bowl. Miami was branded a cultural wasteland decades back. Today, in this small arena, it’s eclipsing London.

Third, this fair truly is a global magnet. Photos with our fair coverage last week included dealers from Germany, the organizers of the next international symposium of the International Map Collectors’ Society, dealers from Manhattan and upstate New York, others from Arizona and several specialists from the Library of Congress in Washington.

Such serious visitors are significant. Like Super Bowl fans, they fill hotels. Like Super Bowl fans, they spend elsewhere.

But as the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau would point out, visitors with the means to buy antique maps that can top $1 million apiece also have the wherewithal to consider a second residence here that could later become a primary residence and then a base for their other business interests. Each time we lure here a person of substance, we stand a chance of bolstering our economy by far more than the hotel fees and meals the initial visit involved.

The map fair is just one example, though a great one, of small visits that may pay big dividends.

During the fair, 20 members of the American Academy of Implant Dentistry were meeting at the Fairmont Turnberry Isle Resort and Club, 35 Bosch Corp. guests were at the Loews Miami Beach, 400 members of the Managed Funds Association were at the Ritz-Carlton on Key Biscayne and 15 members of the College of American Pathologists were at the Mayfair Hotel and Spa. No doubt many of these may become, like the fairgoers, not only ambassadors for Miami but return guests, condo buyers and local business operators.

Not to say that only small events are vital. Like the throngs for a Super Bowl, a big meeting will attract thousands of potential buyers and investors.

Note, then, that while these meetings were taking place, about 20,000 visitors were walking the aisles of the Miami Beach Convention Center at the annual trade show for the Printing Association of Florida, which historically lures large numbers of entrepreneurs from Latin America.

Impact is often gauged by cost of a seat at the table or in the stands. But that’s only part of the story. Super Bowl tickets went for $600 and $700 each for this month’s game in Detroit while map fair tickets cost just $10. But the fair is young. In the Orange Bowl in the late 1960s, Super Bowl tickets cost $12.

More important, map fair visitors didn’t come primarily for sun or South Beach glitter or the sports event of the year. Their purpose may develop a larger percentage of long-term economic attachments to Miami.

The fine lines on the brittle paper that bring global experts to Miami may also be producing the roadmaps to economic growth. Thus do under-the-radar events help put us more clearly on the global map.