Why Miami Is Primed To Be The Next Silicon Valley

In 2011, the Miami Herald published an article on Miami “brain drain,” citing it as the excuse for everything from bad restaurant service to poor drivers and clueless coworkers. The idea behind the “buzzword” was that the most educated and talented people in Miami leave to seek better employment or lifestyles elsewhere.

Since then, brain drain has been written about ad nauseam by every major local news outlet from WLRN and the Miami Herald to the South Florida Business Journal. Contributing factors often cited include a high cost of living, a weak job market, poor compensation compared to national averages, and expensive rental and housing prices.  As an entrepreneur and Miami resident, I believe the focus on brain drain is exaggerated and overly critical, and it misses a firm belief I hold: Miami is primed to be the next Silicon Valley.

Don’t believe me?

In many ways, Miami is a young city. It has only shaken its reputation as a stopover for drug lords and debauchery in the past two decades, thanks to the gentrification of Downtown-Brickell, the tourism development on South Beach, and the burgeoning offshoot art districts like Wynwood. The centers of community and culture that make Miami the vibrant city I know and love today were absent just 20 years ago. For example, the New World Symphony gave its first public concert in 1988, the same year the Miami Heat men’s basketball team was founded. The University of Miami was only recognized by U.S. News & World Report as one of the nation’s top 50 universities in 2010, and the city’s epicenter for performing arts, the Adrienne Arsht Center, was only built in 2008. In other words: Miami has some catching up to do when compared to other major metropolitan areas such as New York, Chicago and San Francisco. But as the city of Miami evolves, what may have turned companies and employees away before is no longer an issue. In fact, as the arts, culture and restaurant scenes all continue to grow, Miami has become an urban hotspot. Couple that with the year-round warm weather and no state income tax, many companies are now able to successfully pull top talent away from larger markets, where the cost of living is even higher.

What inspires me the most is knowing that Miami looks an awful lot like San Francisco did before the dot-com boom, which turned Silicon Valley into one of the most sought-after places to live, work and play in. During the 1980s, San Francisco experienced a boom of development in the financial district – not unlike what we are seeing in Brickell today – yet the city struggled to shake its reputation as a haven for bohemians, vagrants and hippies. In 1996, San Francisco mayor Willie Brown expanded the city budget and created over 4,000 new jobs that ultimately fueled the tech explosion in the late 1990s. It only takes one person with a vision.

In Miami, that vision started with the Knight Foundation and is now championed by many others. The Knight Foundation is a private, national foundation that funds technology, arts and educational programming in 26 communities. The organization has strong roots in Miami thanks to the Miami Herald’s early support of the program during the late 1960s. The foundation has helped fund critical infrastructure programs such as Miami’s first startup incubator, VentureHive, and the wildly popular technology networking community, Refresh Miami.

Today, there are close to a half dozen incubators for startups to choose from (VentureHive, Endeavor Miami, Rokk3r Labs, Project Lift and TECKpert), and the technology and entrepreneurial scene is growing exponentially. For example, venture capital firm Dragon Global is investing over $1 billion in a 15-acre innovation and technology district called “Magic City” just a few blocks north of Wynwood and the Design District. The project is slated for completion in 2018, according to the Real Deal, and work-share spaces such as WeWork Miami and Buro are popping up all over the city in Downtown Miami, Coral Gables, South Beach and Midtown. Many of these entrepreneurial endeavors are already finding national success. For example, Chewy.com, a South Florida-based online retailer for pet supplies, was just purchased by PetSmart for a whopping $3.35 billion. Also, Wired.com named Magic Leap, a South Florida start-up focused on cutting edge, virtual reality technology, “the world’s hottest start-up.” Google, which recently invested $542 million in Magic Leap, would probably agree with that superlative.

What started as a few grant investments in Miami’s arts and community scene has blossomed into a full-scale innovation movement. Miami is now experiencing the influx of resources and support needed to create a strong community of technology leaders and change-makers. While our city may still have a way to go, I, Burton Katz – Miami native and proud resident and entrepreneur – look forward to looking back five or 10 years from now and remembering these exciting days before Miami was officially crowned the next Silicon Valley.

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