Florida Trend | Florida's Business Authority

Creating a Tech Hub in Miami

Tourism, real estate and international trade are driving the economy in Miami-Dade, as they have for years. One new focus is creating a technology hub in the county. The number of tech startups and second-stage companies has grown dramatically, as have incubators and other growth organizations. But industry executives say it is too spread out, lacking a true nexus or an ecosystem of technology entrepreneurs who successfully exit their companies and spawn the next generation.Among the county's established sectors, real estate has moved well beyond the bust, and the hospitality industry continues to set records, particularly in international visitors.Meanwhile, PortMiami is poised to increase its activity, with on-dock rail service, the opening of a tunnel that will allow trucks to bypass downtown Miami on their way to I-95 and a new Foreign Trade Zone designation at the port.

In real estate, developers have proposed some 13,600 condos in just the eastern part of the county, according to Condo Vultures. The median price for a condo was up 7. 4% in December from the year before, and the median single-family home price was up by 15%. That has some industry watchers worried."Values in markets like Coral Gables, Pinecrest and Miami Beach have peaked pre-crash levels and don't show any signs of slowing down," says Raul G. Valdes-Fauli, president and CEO of Professional Bank. "I fear … that the market has come back too quickly and that we're setting ourselves up for a repeat performance of the last downturn."

On the commercial side, the county's industrial market is the thirdstrongest in the country, according to CBRE. JLL's Florida market director, Doug Irmscher, expects industrial leasing activity to remain strong in markets such as Medley and the Area west of Miami International Airport.Land prices in that area have reached as much as $1 million per acre. Developers plan more than a dozen office projects — about 1.3 million square feet of space — mainly in the county's suburban markets, including Kendall and Doral.

Unemployment in the county has fallen to levels not seen since July 2008, with the tourism sector alone growing 3. 5% between 2012 and 2013. Wholesale trade also has grown, along with some manufacturing. International accounting and law firms were also important drivers of employment growth. Financial services began to see employment tick up at the end of 2013, after shrinking during the recession. In fact, the job market is strong enough that most employers are struggling to fill positions. One factor: Wages don't match the area's cost of living. A bigger issue, though, is the lack of properly trained talent. Both employers and economic development leaders say the county needs to boost high school graduation rates, retain more of the area's best and brightest college graduates and continue to work with local colleges and universities to match their programs to the county's workforce needs.

Businesses to Watch

Carnival Corp.: Arnold Donald, who became Carnival's first new CEO in 34 years last year, has his work cut out for him as the entire cruise industry fights to win back consumer confidence. Although late 2013 saw better-Than-expected cruise ticket prices and on board spending for the company's Carnival Cruise Line, advance bookings for this year are behind last year's. The company has put in safety initiatives such as a $700-million shipboard fire prevention and back-up power system and completed testing of new, exhaustgas cleaning "scrubbers," which it is preparing to install throughout much of its feet. New ships should hit the water for Princess Cruises and AIDA Cruises this year, with more coming in 2015 and 2016. The company launched a $25-million advertising campaign for Carnival ("Moments that Matter") and an outreach campaign to travel agents, and also opened 10 sales offices in Asia.

American Airlines: Its merger with US Airways means greater financial stability for American Airlines, which is one of the county's largest employers and the largest carrier at Miami International Airport, accounting for some 70% of fights. Industry watchers say American Airlines could add routes to Asia from MIA and that the merger could also mean more cargo moving between MIA and Amsterdam, Athens, Tel Aviv, Venice and other cities.

Seaboard Marine: The shipping operator is growing its business, expecting to take advantage of growth at PortMiami and better rail connectivity. It started the year by expanding its Medley warehouse by 64,000 square feet (signing a lease renewal for a total of 267,400 square feet) and opening a new gate complex at PortMiami.

Miami Access Tunnel: May should bring the opening of the $1-billion tunnel connecting PortMiami directly to the MacArthur Causeway. That should allow 18-wheelers carrying cargo to get to the highway more quickly and reduce traffic issues in downtown Miami.

Miami Beach Convention Center: After years of planning, Miami Beach had finally selected South Beach ACE to expand the Miami Beach Convention Center and redevelop the area around it. But a new city commission and new mayor, Philip Levine, terminated the negotiations and plans to issue two new requests for bids for renovating the convention center and building a nearby hotel.South Beach ACE and the city disagree over whether the city is required to proceed with its negotiations, and at least one large convention has said it will not return to the city because of the convention center's condition.

EMerge Americas: May's inaugural eMerge Americas Conference is expected to bring some 5,000 technology entrepreneurs, investors and industry leaders from throughout the hemisphere to Miami Beach, putting the region on the international technology scene. Host Technology Foundation of the Americas has lined up IBM, JP Morgan, Univision and Cisco as sponsoring partners, and Greenberg Traurig, the Knight Foundation, Medina Capital and Miami-Dade County are all key supporters.

Gamma North America: Among the 1 million square feet of products Gamma North America fabricates in its Miami facility are the curtain walls being installed in Brickell City Centre, the massive mixed-use project being developed in downtown Miami. Miami is one of two North American bases for the company, which is a subsidiary of Far East Global Group.

International Arbitration Court: In January, the nation's second International Arbitration Court opened under the Miami-Dade County Circuit Court. The county's role in international arbitration will be further cemented when the International Council for Commercial Arbitration Congress takes place in Miami — returning to the U.S. for the first time in 28 years.

The glut of condos from the recession has been absorbed and new condos are under construction. The city entered the year focused on industries such as technology and production.Retired soccer player David Beckham is in talks to start a Major League Soccer expansion team and has made it clear that he wants to build the team's stadium in the city. It likely won't be easy to get yet another sports stadium built in Miami, though: Residents are still smarting about, and paying off, the publicly financed Marlins Park.

Construction cranes once again crowd the skyline in and around downtown Miami, and developers are snapping up available land. In one of the biggest deals of last year, Swire Group, which is building the massive mixed-used Brickell City Centre, paid $64.1 million for land adjacent to CityCentre.At the end of last year, Related Group acquired another Brickell site on which it plans to spend more than $1 billion over many years to develop One Brickell. The boom is spreading well beyond downtown, with nearby neighborhoods such as Little Havana and Edgewater seeing new condo developments, some of which have already broken ground.

Braman Motors: Braman BMW, one of several Braman Motors dealerships in the city, is adding a seven-story, 100,000-sq.-ft. showroom and parking garage to its highly visible location just Miami-Dade north of downtown. The new glass-faced first floor showroom will be on Biscayne Boulevard.

Metropolitan Miami: MDM Group first began construction of its multi building, mixed-use Metropolitan Miami project in 2004. Metropolitan Miami began construction during the boom, nearly stalled during the bust, and this year the initial phase is in the final stages of construction.MDM will break ground this year on the final portion of the development, a movie theater and retail complex called Met Square.A Whole Foods Market, first announced in 2004, should be finished during the first quarter of 2015.

Miami World center: Developers Art Falcone, Nitin Motwani and CIM Group have been working to get the 30- acre Miami World center off the ground in the area across from American Airlines Arena. This year, construction is expected to begin, probably with the 75,000-sq.-ft. The Mall at Miami World center. The Forbes Co.And Taubman Centers have a deal to build the mall and have already signed Bloomingdale's and Macy's (which will leave its historic downtown Miami location) as anchors. Developer MDM Group has a deal to build a 1,800-room convention center hotel, which could also break ground this year.

Pérez Art Museum Miami: The Pérez Art Museum Miami impressed many in the art world when it opened during Art Basel in Miami Beach late last year, despite some criticism of its collection and exhibits. As the excitement Of opening fades, the museum will need to sustain interest and financial support from a broad swath of the local community and from tourists.

Apollo Bank: Apollo Bank is acquiring First Bank of Miami (based in Coral Gables) from the Swiss banker who owns most of it. Apollo, with $256.7 million in assets and just three branches, gains First Bank's $197.8 million in assets and five branches. Apollo is also raising more than $20 million in new capital from local investors.

Sapient Nitro: Digital advertising and marketing agency Sapient Nitro has crafted campaigns including a smile-activated vending machine and a virtual mirror for trying on eyeglasses. The agency, a subsidiary of Boston-based Sapient, this year acquired Miami-based Hispanic and Latin American communications agency La Comunidad, which will allow it to expand.

Monroe County

Monroe County's strong tourism sector has recently been soaking up both employees and investors, with three real estate investment trusts spending nearly $425 million to buy hotels in the county. In January, a commercial passenger plane few from Key West to Cuba for the first time in more than five decades, and the city would like to see the service become regular.