Coalition vital to tell Miami’s story as a home for business
Written by Michael Lewis on July 4, 2017
We applaud the county jobs team’s new CEO, who told readers last week that one of his three pillars of strategy is to boost Miami’s image for work and business. We sorely need that push.
“It’s our strategy for how to reach businesses,” said Michael Finney, just arrived at the Beacon Council from Michigan. “The market side tells how we’re going to communicate to the external world that Miami is the best place for selected business types to grow and prosper.”
While location strength is obvious here, outsiders often know Miami for the Three S words – sun, sand and surf – and maybe the remnant images of “Miami Vice” as a party and bullets place.
Indeed, at the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce Goals Conference last month a panel of high-powered leaders made it clear that many colleagues – and initially some of the panelists – thought poorly of Miami.
“I’m not sure people understand how dynamic and young the city is, how good the school system is, and what a great family place it is,” Celebrity Cruises President Lisa Lutoff-Perlo told chamber members. “It’s a real selling job.”
Leading the sales team will be Mr. Finney. And while he’ll get help – Ms. Lutoff-Perlo said her staff is creating a plan to strengthen Miami’s business and work image – he’ll be the general.
Unfortunately, the general is missing firepower, notably cash to do the job. The old $3 million a year war chest to build Miami’s image in the US and globally is long gone.
The marketing war chest came from a partnership: the county put up $1 for every $2 business put in. But that dwindled as some partners exited and the county cut, first to $500,000, then to $250,000, and ultimately to zero.
You don’t do a lot of marketing of Miami without the funds to reach outsiders.
That doesn’t mean we don’t market. The Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau does a great job on tourism, building the Three S image and much more and making us far more competitive in bringing in visitors.
But while it’s true that some pleasure visitors do discover Miami’s assets for work and business and return as employees, investors or owners, that’s not the thrust of visitor marketing – nor should it be.
No, we need a parallel cooperative plan for the business sector.
There some doubt whether, even with a vast treasury, the Beacon Council could bring here huge job-creating businesses that pay top wages, the kind of businesses targeted by the council-led One Community One Goal effort.
But there should be zero doubt that properly funded marketing could bring in more mid-size enterprises that add very good jobs.
“You cannot market Miami-Dade worldwide without resources,” notes Frank Nero, who was Beacon Council CEO for nearly two decades and benefitted from the marketing funding that has disappeared. “Many companies worldwide still view Miami-Dade as primarily a tourist destination.”
Ideally, Mr. Finney will find support in government and industry to resurrect a funded marketing partnership. One panelist at the chamber was Ralph Lopez, American Airlines president of Miami hub operations – and American was the key private sector funder of the old marketing coalition. He sees the need. “The perception of Miami needs to evolve,” he told the chamber group.
Celebrity Cruises obviously gets the message. So should airlines, realtors, developers and others who profit mightily from our influx of executives and companies from around the nation and the globe.
The key missing player is the county, which committed $1 million last time to marketing. Mr. Finney and his volunteer team will need to sell the county that marketing that adds taxpaying businesses is an investment in jobs and a net positive, not an expense. Though true, that’s not an easy sell.
Matching private funding to government investment will be easiest if the county isn’t perceived to control spending. Businesses are shy about funding government-run projects.
Even with a sizeable marketing budget, however, business developers will need boosts elsewhere. The best sales tool is reality. Marketing to outside businesses would benefit immensely from gains in workforce housing and transportation that would allow businesses’ staffs to live comfortably.
It’s a challenge to show the working environment that makes Miami special, and an even bigger challenge to upgrade that environment for all Miamians, including those who will be bringing in new jobs.
As Mr. Nero notes, the marketing challenge alone is broad: “Marketing is NOT just putting ads in the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal – although that would help if there were enough resources for a comprehensive and sustained campaign – but rather a comprehensive sustained multiyear program encompassing advertising, print, social media, radio, TV, PR efforts for print media, aggressive trade show and industry presence and site selector promotion.”
Welcome to that challenge, Mr. Finney. You’re going to need a marketing coalition with strength and funding to meet it. Business leaders should step up and help.