Earlier this year, the City of Miami hired its first-ever chief technology officer. Mayor Francis Suarez has been zealously courting tech firms and remote workers since the pandemic began, having reportedly spoken with Jack Dorsey, Eric Schmidt and Peter Thiel, among others. He’s betting big on crypto and openly talking to Elon Musk about building underground tunnels—the same kind that Fort Lauderdale recently approved to solve its own congestion problems.
Suarez and other South Florida governments are responding to trends happening nationwide: major tech hubs like San Francisco and New York have severely regressed in the past year as viable places to start a company or move for work. Evergreen problems such as affordability, prohibitive real estate costs and arduous commutes have been exacerbated by the pandemic, staunching growth and creating an exodus across America. According to a report by LinkedIn published in December 2020, the country’s traditional knowledge hubs have all steeply declined in employment and hiring in the last year, including San Francisco (-13%), Washington, DC (-11%), New York (-9.4%) and Los Angeles (-7.7%). Those losses are gains for emerging hubs like Miami.
A Rising Hub for Remote Workers
Drilling down into LinkedIn’s numbers, we can see that, throughout 2020, New York handily topped the list of newcomer workers to Miami–Ft. Lauderdale. Fully nine times as many people moved from New York as the second-place finisher, Wichita. Miami also lands on most top 10 lists of rising tech hubs.
A 2021 report by Roofstock, a real estate investment marketplace, which analyzed five-year trends in new startups and local job growth, found Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach was number four in the country—just under Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, which landed in second place, and above Jacksonville (number nine) and Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater (number 12). No other state was better represented than Florida.
Two main attributes contribute to this trend: warm weather and low taxes. The Gold Coast, the state’s vibrant economic center, is best poised to capitalize on this sudden interest.
I understand the mindset of these migratory leaders. I have long operated my business while traveling back and forth between New York and my hometown of Boca Raton, in addition to other cities around the United States and beyond. During the pandemic, I realized I had the opportunity, for the first time, to run my company fully from the comfort of the Gold Coast, while still being able to keep meetings—virtually—that I would have otherwise traveled for.
Retaining Remote Workers
But the Gold Coast cities face a challenge. How will they retain these newcomers? With the sudden spike in interest and influx of remote workers, what are these cities doing to keep the wave going?
The answer is important, because the Gold Coast has steep competition. Even before the pandemic, Austin, sometimes dubbed “Silicon Hills,” has grown into a burgeoning tech hub, bolstered by local VCs and a diverse tech industry that includes corporate offices and Dell’s headquarters. Over in the Rockies, “Silicon Mountain” is the new nickname for Denver, which features a growing number of incubators and rising venture capital.
The Gold Coast, however, is not yet known as “Silicon Coast.” While Florida is unquestionably on the rise, it’s yet to break through in the manner that other emerging hubs already have. One reason could be cost of living: while more affordable than New York, Miami is demonstrably more expensive than Denver or Austin.
Another reason, I believe, is that the cultural amenities of the Gold Coast, as a whole, are unevenly distributed. Miami is a world-class city with museums, sports teams and amphitheaters—but Miami is also the fourth-densest city in the United States. Most newcomers are just as likely to settle down somewhere outside of Miami, such as Boca Raton, deliberately escaping congestion for a home with more breathing room. Considering that remote workers will likely be flocking to these cities, it is pivotal for the city itself to do their best to retain these newcomers and their families.
Investing in Arts & Culture
Leaders in the Gold Coast would do well to invest time and money not just in incentivizing people to move to their city, but also keep them there. Museums, arts festivals, live shows, sporting events—these kinds of investments in a city’s overall quality of life are too often overlooked by politicians and business leaders. Regrettably, tight budgets always scrap arts spending first. In a pandemic era, those budgets aren’t getting any looser.
It is therefore incumbent upon eager residents to fill the gap and help grow their cities into vibrant cultural hubs, to match the economic and population growth. Several large-scale projects are emerging as solutions to this problem. The one I’m involved in is the Boca Raton Center for Arts & Innovation, which is currently in the process of finalizing its long-term ground lease with the City of Boca Raton and is in the early stages of fundraising. Rather than competing with storied arts institutions in Miami or Palm Beach, the Center will fill at least one of the gaps in between. Taking advantage of a nearby Brightline stop, connecting Boca with cities from Orlando to Miami, the Center will be a world-class hub for arts and culture, education and innovation. It will create unique opportunities for artists, entrepreneurs and tech workers to collaborate in a multidisciplinary performance and R&D context.
Our project is just one example of local residents helping to spark a positive change in their city. Not only is cultural infrastructure badly needed to retain the incoming wave of companies and remote workers, but it’s simply needed for anyone who lives in Boca Raton and the surrounding areas. The city has something of a sleepy reputation, particularly with respect to technology. While it’s the birthplace of the PC, ever since IBM closed their plant here in the 1990s, Boca has slipped out of the national spotlight as a tech center. But with renewed infrastructure and a demand for Boca’s quality of life, the city is poised to revitalize its image in the coming decade.
Building a new center focused on arts, innovation and education could significantly revitalize the area. The benefits of a vibrant local arts and culture scene are myriad, from increased economic activity to the happiness of residents, boosted tourism numbers and, of course, business retention—which is why such a project is so urgent at this moment in time.
Other emerging tech hubs don’t suffer from this problem. Austin comes to mind most prominently, with its famous festival and music scene. The Gold Coast will have to try a little harder to catch up. It’s wonderful that Mayor Suarez and his network of entrepreneurs are drawing people to the region. But as potentially thousands of New Yorkers continue moving to Miami, we must ask ourselves the crucial question: What will encourage them to stick around?