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Front Page » Opinion » Miamis Best And Brightest Shown A Shining Economic Future

Miamis Best And Brightest Shown A Shining Economic Future

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Written by on January 11, 2007

By Michael Lewis
Economic engines purred in harmony Saturday, an antidote to any post-holiday depression, as 100-some future leaders heard our economy’s workhorses paint a glittering word panorama of Miami’s future.

The audience was Leadership Miami, young executives who, under the auspices of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, prepare themselves for starring roles in the area’s future.

Speaking on the north end of downtown amidst towering cranes, Dana Nottingham, executive director of Miami’s Downtown Development Authority, noted the authority’s highflying goal of supercharging downtown’s $8 billion tax base to reach $22 billion by 2015.

Much of the growth will come from outside, said Holly Wiedman, executive vice president of the county’s development partnership, the Beacon Council. She noted that the council’s 97 company expansion and retention projects we’d reported Thursday had inched up to 98 — totaling 63 potential new businesses. We won’t lure them all, but more keep looking at us.

Florida’s job growth is so great, said Manny Mencia, Enterprise Florida’s senior vice president of international trade and business development, that the state is trying to channel it into high-wage, high-tech industries — knowledge-based jobs. We’re already fourth in the US in high-tech establishments and employment, he told the young executives.

Luring those jobs may be easier than keeping them, said one Leadership participant who fears his employer, a long-time biomedical leader, may exit because it can’t keep key executives or find new ones. His boss, he said, just headed for San Francisco and a co-worker is Boston-bound.

Ms. Wiedman acknowledged difficulties, saying it’s far easier to recruit from abroad — where Miami is seen as a business hub — than in the US, which doesn’t take us as seriously.

But, she said, the Beacon Council is reaching out to our high-tech and biomed companies, helping them recruit — even flying to other cities to speak with clusters of potential employees about Miami’s advantages.

While the Beacon Council’s No. 1 challenge remains the business image of Miami, she said, with the famed Scripps Research Institute coming to the region and the rising stature of the University of Miami and Florida International University, biomed firms "from all over the world are looking at Miami in a whole different way than they did five years ago."

Such companies now know they need to be here, she said, though they face cost-of-living and housing-affordability hurdles — a thought Mr. Nottingham echoed.

Magnets that bring global business also lure global travelers — 5.2 million of them among the county’s 11.3 million overnight visitors last year, said David Whitaker, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Those magnets, he said, go beyond weather to include shopping, which 22% cite as a factor in coming here, and nightlife.

As in the rest of our economic engine, the visitor industry has gears that need oiling. Mr. Whitaker pointed to the need for high-quality customer service, long our Achilles’ heel.

But Miami’s glass is far, far more than half-full, the panelists agreed. Visitors last year probably set a record, Mr. Whitaker said. For the first time in memory, Miami is at virtually full employment, Mr. Mencia noted.

In fact, Mr. Mencia says the big story is that in less than two generations, Miami has emerged as one of the world’s great business centers while Florida as a whole went from "the state of the newly wed and the nearly dead" to become what, standing alone, would be the world’s 17th- or 18th-largest national economy.

Such skyrocketing takes a toll — transportation crunches, housing prices, infrastructure that trails growth.

But on Saturday morning, the story was of superb market position and a sparkling future — as it should be before bright young executives who are destined to keep the sparkle bright when the future becomes the present.