Microsoft landing elevates business hub of Latin America
Welcome news that Microsoft will open a 50,000-square-foot Brickell office is being hailed as a big step in a Miami tech boom, but it primarily elevates Miami as the business link to Latin America and the Caribbean.
Of course, any business entrant to the city’s core is welcome, more so when it takes 50,000 square feet in a rising tower when office vacancies are high, even more when it’s a global brand, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that Microsoft has long been a huge name in tech.
So it’s not surprising that the mayor and commissioners talk about this great addition to the city as part of a tech boom.
But let’s be candid: the Microsoft group that’s coming is the Latin America regional team. The site is to be the Latin American and Caribbean regional headquarters. That means the team will primarily be those who sell to, market for and service Latin American customers. It is by no means a research and development center, so any synergy with the cutting-edge tech world will be minimal.
While this Microsoft operation will be far more sophisticated, filled with relatively highly paid executives, think of this incoming corporate division as we might think of Amazon.
As you recall, Miami-Dade (and all of South Florida) entered a formal battle in 2017 with 200 other areas for a second Amazon headquarters, HQ2, a competition that was national – even though Amazon never actually chose one HQ2 site. Though we didn’t win, we did get thousands of jobs in new Amazon warehouses. We appreciate the jobs, but they hardly fit the category of a headquarters operation.
But the parallel of Microsoft has a very positive twist for Miami: while Microsoft will not bring a glitzy base for cutting-edge technology, it is a big boost for a corps of major corporations that base their Latin American and Caribbean operations in Miami-Dade – which is right where they belong.
Miami is striving to assemble the pieces to become one of the nation’s technology hubs, a worthy aspiration. But we already have all the pieces in place to grow as not one of the hubs dealing with Latin America but THE hub. Microsoft obviously recognizes that even if some of us don’t.
What assets do we have in that regard?
■The trained workforce to staff Latin American operations from the top down and bottom up. We are trying to train tech workers (a great aspiration) while we already have a corps of multinational executives and leaders (an even greater asset).
■The mix of residents and workers who not only understand the nations to the south but speak the languages and may well carry those passports. Try to find another area of this nation with that asset.
■Other regional headquarters operations, some based here for three or more decades. In moving here Microsoft (and businesses that follow) will not be pioneering.
We already have a network of fellow international business leaders – the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce for years had a Committee of 21 made up of leaders of 21 big-name corporations whose Latin American offices were based there. Meetings were among equals sharing their experiences, a welcoming environment for newly arrived corporations.
■Miami International Airport is a single flight away from not only the capitals but also secondary cities throughout the region, so a Miami base is not much further time-wise from a meeting in any nation than a trip from a neighboring South American nation. Our competitors for a Latin American headquarters may well be other nations, not other US cities or states. We don’t lose time or convenience in such competition.
■PortMiami, vast warehousing operations through the county and the human infrastructure of logistics operators knowledgeable in international trade offer great infrastructure for many corporations.
■The state bases its international business team from Enterprise Florida in Coral Gables, supporting business of all sizes although surely a more vital asset to mid-size and smaller firms than to Microsoft, which already knows the ropes globally.
■We live under US law and the stability of the US political and economic systems. Even in days when we seem to battle one another internally, the longer-term advantages of US stability cannot be overstated.
Of course these advantages would also be available to a corporate tech acquisition, but perhaps far less pivotal in a location decision.
Microsoft knows South Florida’s advantages. It chose to open its Latin America office in 1994 in Fort Lauderdale with about 20 employees at a time when Miami lacked stability (two years later the state placed the troubled city under a financial oversight board).
Microsoft has stayed in Fort Lauderdale almost three decades, reaching 400 employees in that office plus about 3,600 in the 46-nation region by 2014, including manufacturing sites in Brazil and Mexico.
Now the corporation is heading to the capital of South Florida, the core of Miami, where growth in the past 18 months has been coming via business exits from the Northeast and other tax-challenged regions of the US. Since the pandemic started, our international gains have been sidelined.
Now Microsoft seems to be betting that when it opens in 2022 at a new building called 830 Brickell (it’s not on Brickell, but the street name is famed in Latin America) the pandemic will be more controlled and our Latin America travel will strengthen again.
Miami’s political leaders now are betting big on high tech as our future and are making progress in luring some of that world here.
On the other hand Maurice Ferré, the late mayor of Miami for six terms, was certainly correct in his policies aimed at cementing Miami’s future as the Capital of Latin America.
Those two policies are not mutually exclusive – we can have both. With that in mind, we welcome Microsoft’s big bet on Miami’s present and future.