For decades, Miami has been known as America’s gateway to Latin America. But spending even a few hours in the office of Francis Suarez, the city’s 45-year-old mayor, makes it clear that the South Florida metropolis has also become a magnet for investors from other corners of the world.
Sitting in the waiting room on a recent sunny afternoon, Lech Walesa, the former Polish president and anti-communist crusader, was patiently awaiting his turn for an audience with the mayor. Attendees are excitedly discussing the possible arrival in the city of the Saudi-backed investment conference, dubbed “Davos in the desert”.
“We are welcoming and we want the best, the brightest and the best capitalized here. Why? Because it will strengthen us,” says Suarez, sitting in his white-walled modernist office. “Our salaries are growing faster than anyone else’s.”
Miami’s growing status as an international hub, which has helped it rise to the top tier of the first FT-Nikkei Investing in the US ranking of America’s best cities for foreign business, has coincided with a similar rise as a favorite location for domestic investors.
Financiers from New York and tech entrepreneurs from California began settling in the city during the coronavirus pandemic, citing its light lockdown measures and a warm climate that made working from home tolerable.
Foreign investors have followed suit. Even as foreign direct investment across the United States fell in 2020, it jumped 70% for Miami, with the United Kingdom, Panama and Spain leading, according to data from fDi Markets. , a Financial Times-owned news provider that tracks new FDI. , or cross-border investments that create new jobs and equipment.
“Miami has traditionally touted itself as the gateway to the Americas, and that’s still true,” said Ilona Vega Jaramillo, vice president of the Beacon Council, Miami’s economic development organization. “But I would even say that we exceed that. I think we are now a global city center.
Many locals give credit to Suarez, which has put its city on the radar of new foreign investors with a playful approach four word tweet in 2020: “How can I help? (The tweet was in response to a Silicon Valley executive’s suggestion that frustrated tech investors were abandoning northern California for southern Florida.)
Suarez, who likes to call his city “the capital of capital”, then set up more facilities to help businesses set up, including an office focused on helping potential investors. For those overseas, it didn’t hurt that more than half of Miami’s residents were foreign-born, the highest proportion of any major US city.
Suarez was able to accomplish this repositioning almost entirely through the strength of his personality; The mayor of Miami has limited executive powers and the office is a part-time job. A Republican, he has managed to close in on the party’s historic reputation as a friend of business – local taxes remain low – while remaining outspokenly critical of Donald Trump’s nativist and anti-immigrant policies.
“The mayor has done a really good job of creating this snowball effect for us to seriously think about,” said Kurt MacAlpine, managing director of Canadian asset manager CI Financial.
The company chose Miami for its US headquarters last year and recently doubled its lease at 830 Brickell, the newest office building in Miami’s Financial District and home to other big names like Citadel, Microsoft, AerCap and Thomas Bravo. The building is slated for completion in January, and projected rent has nearly doubled to $120 per square foot in three years.
Like many local leaders, Suarez is targeting tech groups as potential investors, betting high costs and political pressures in traditional tech hubs like San Francisco and New York will make South Florida more attractive.
Suarez points to New York’s decision to drop its bid to Amazon for its second headquarters in Long Island City – the big tax breaks offered to the e-commerce group sparking furious local opposition in the Big Apple – as a turning point.
He made cryptocurrency groups a particular focus. Last August, Suarez launched MiamiCoin, making Miami the first municipality to have its own digital currency. The move came months after the world’s largest Bitcoin conference moved from Los Angeles to Miami, and crypto exchange FTX paid $135 million for the naming rights to the arena that houses the team. Miami Heat basketball court.
Despite the volatility in the crypto market – MiamiCoin has lost almost all of its market value since its launch – Suarez continues to receive part of his salary in Bitcoin.
“A lot of the crypto ecosystem and energy was moving to Miami, and we wanted to be a part of that,” says UK-based Blockchain.com co-founder Peter Smith, who moved the US headquarters of his company from New York to Miami last year.
The city was not without growing pains. Real estate prices have increased by 36% and rents by 26 percent over the past year, with Miami posting the strongest rent growth among U.S. cities for the 10th consecutive month in July, according to real estate website Realtor.com.
“There has been a huge increase in leases, whether commercial or residential, and that has made it prohibitively expensive to implement what we originally planned,” says Luis Merchan, Managing Director of Flora Growth, a global cannabis company that announced it would be moving its headquarters from Toronto to Miami last year.
Population growth has also made it harder for foreigners to find school places for their children.
“Lack of inventory of housing and school slots is a huge problem,” says Richard Florida, one of the world’s leading urban planners, who divides his time between Miami and Toronto, where he teaches at the Rotman School of Management.
Miami could soon face the same bifurcation issues that have plagued San Francisco and New York, with the super-rich living well but younger, lower-paid workers struggling to make ends meet. The city ranked second among the largest metropolitan areas in income inequality in 2020, behind New York City, according to U.S. Census data.
In the longer term, the city will have to cope with the impact of climate change, with some housing being threatened with flooding. According to real estate platform Zillow, more than a third of Miami’s housing stock is at risk of flooding as sea levels rise.
Miami may also be struggling to avoid the culture wars that have eaten up the rest of the state and antagonized even companies that have been doing business in Florida for decades, including Disney.
Last month, the Miami School Board voted against a measure that would recognize October as LGBTQ History Month, a move over concerns the district would violate Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law backed by Governor Ron DeSantis.
The law, which prohibits classroom discussions of sexual orientation or gender identity in lower classes, has raised alarm bells in some neighborhoods in a city historically proud to be one of the most tolerant states -United.
Liane Ventura, senior vice president of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, insists the culture wars have yet to affect investors, who still view the city as a business-friendly environment.
“Here in South Florida, we don’t really elaborate on those things,” Ventura says. “We talk more about how to bring Bitcoin.”