Beacon Council, which targets jobs, labors equally to keep those already in Miami-Dade
By Zachary S. Fagenson
Miami-Dade's economic development arm, the Beacon Council, prides itself on helping companies establish regional headquarters here and spearheading large-scale projects like a possible commercial air show in Homestead next year, but nearly half its time and resources are spend making sure companies already here are functioning smoothly.
Eleven of the council's 31 completed "projects" in 2010 focused on convincing businesses to stay in Miami-Dade or expand — and some did both.
Those include the expansion of Avaya Inc., a global communications company that consolidated its operation and chose Miami over locations in Argentina and Colorado to add 180 jobs and make a $4.6 million capital investment.
Other big victories include Visa's opening of a call center that's to add 366 jobs and Ibiley Manufacturing Corp., which makes body armor textiles for the military and police, planning to add 120 jobs. Most of those jobs will be added over a number of years.
But large companies aren't the only focus. Espacio USA, a Spanish construction and real estate company, added three employees, while Aquaculture Research/Environmental Associates Inc. expanded its operations in Homestead, adding seven jobs.
The local projects come from a combination of references from the Local Business, Local Jobs committee of the council's private-sector board, individual board members' referrals and staff members' 150 or so annual visits to local companies.
"Many times it's really inquiring to find out how they're doing and what obstacles they have," said Steve Beatus, council associate executive vice president, of the visits to local companies. "Many times it's just a re-education of how their business is doing and what their future plans may be."
And "many times we uncover challenges they're having," he added.
Helping local companies seems to bring a more immediate return on the agency's work as well.
Many of the Beacon Council's international projects, in which it courts foreign companies to set up a North American or Latin American headquarters, have a timeline of more than a year. Although some local projects can be extensive, "there's really no rule of thumb," Mr. Beatus said. "Some projects, from soup to nuts, are completed within a couple of months, others have taken years."
The council's budget, he added, is split about evenly between attracting foreign or domestic companies to move here and helping local companies stay and grow.
Prior to the recession one of the council's biggest challenges was find qualified employees for new or expanding companies to hire. While finding highly trained and skilled workers for emerging knowledge-based industries remains a key concern for many, now companies are looking for ways to maximize return on every penny they spend.
"If anything, the questions we had were companies trying to streamline opportunities, looking for other sources of revenue, new markets and looking at facilities that provide economic advantages," Mr. Beatus said.
The council, however, doesn't always succeed. Sometimes there's not much it can do to keep companies, especially large corporations, from leaving town.
This month Seabourn, the luxury brand of Carnival Cruises, announced it would be moving its headquarters to Seattle, laying off 66 but saving millions along the way.
Last year Boston Scientific, a medical device and procedures company that employed about 1,400 in Doral, announced it was closing the site and moving to Costa Rica.
The Beacon Council does its best to convince companies leaving and laying people off in swaths to stay, but "the challenge with many of these companies… [is] dictated not because of issues here in Miami-Dade County but fall under more of global corporate decisions," Mr. Beatus said.
Once the companies leave, he said, the work moves to trying to mitigate the impact on those laid off and getting large pieces of real estate reoccupied.
While the Beacon Council can't convince every company to stay, each one it does retain is a small victory at a cheaper price.
Though companies considering a move out of town aren't eligible for incentives, those thinking about expansion are.
"It's certainly much easier, in terms of effort and expense," Mr. Beatus continued, "keeping a company growing here than trying to attract another company to locate here."
Furthermore, the cost of relocation and disruption to daily business gives the council another chip to bargain with in efforts to keep adding jobs locally.
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