Miami has positioned itself as the new tech hub, and the hype focuses on big names, a business-friendly environment, and responsiveness to incoming tech companies. Interestingly, it has taken ownership for success stories not only in the city of Miami and Miami-Dade County, but for companies also located in the greater Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach areas. The U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) defines the metropolitan statistical area (MSA) for South Florida as Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Palm Beach, and, ultimately, all three will come together as one entity — the South Florida Tech Hub.
One of the biggest stories currently spotlighted in the national media is the growth of South Florida as an emerging tech hub, as the region aggressively promotes a business-friendly environment seeking to recruit tech companies and entrepreneurs. South Florida seeks to compete with San Francisco, Boston, Denver, Austin, and New York. The increase in remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic has put South Florida on the map for attracting the tech industry, entrepreneurs, and investors from large urban centers. “Work in the cloud, live in the sun,” is becoming a popular phrase, and data shows an increase in people flocking to Florida, the third most populous state, with one of the highest growth rates averaging more than 300,000 per year.
California’s Silicon Valley is perhaps the best known region in the world when it comes to the tech industry, and the U.S. has been very aggressive in recent years in cultivating cities as part of the technology boom, thus leading to terrific economic growth. Recent years have shown an increased spike in tech-related jobs, as new markets continue to open across the nation. All of this sounds great for the U.S. economy; however, there is an increasing talent skills gap to support emerging industries, and employers and entrepreneurs are worried about the shrinking availability of skilled talent. A major part of this gap is due to the disconnect between academic institutions and the industry where, historically, academia dictates to the industry what their needs are rather than listen to what the needs really are. Unfortunately, this trend appears to be relevant today, and even cities and regions with solid growth are feeling the pinch as they compete for qualified and skilled talent.
The number of academic institutions across the country continues to decline meaning smaller colleges and universities are closing, as they are not able to weather the storm of challenges associated with tuition-driven models, declining admissions, lack of finances, and increased competition. Corporate America is taking increased responsibility for recruiting and training current and future employees with the growth of “corporate university” models. Tech companies have specific needs, and there is a clear gap between what many academic institutions are providing and the skills companies in the tech industry require. In addition to relevant undergraduate and graduate degrees, there is an increasing need for industry certifications. Academic institutions have an opportunity to rethink programming and develop stacked credential models offered at an accelerated pace, whereby industry certifications are incorporated into the curriculum and graduates have an advantage over others with added skills demanded by the industry. This is a major opportunity for Florida.
Before a city or region can be classified as a tech hub, it first needs to have a complete innovation ecosystem consisting of entrepreneurs, investment capital, workforce, social and professional networks, a business-friendly environment, a high quality of life, and research universities. South Florida must provide increased access to capital (angel investors, venture and equity capital, and institutional finance) and qualified talent to support emerging industries and related occupations, providing a major opportunity for new skills, upskilling, and reskilling.
In fact, South Florida already ranks near the top of the list for the number of startup companies. The ambition to achieve top tech hub status is realistic and is building momentum, creating opportunities for Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Palm Beach to work together.
South Florida is on a trajectory to becoming a tech hub, creating opportunities for academia and industry to co-invest. Education institutions must listen to the demands of the industry and, as a result, co-develop curriculum offerings that provide content and credentials to meet industry needs in the short, medium, and long term. This also includes creating professor of practice opportunities where industry experts instruct programs in collaboration with academic faculty and technical program instructors. Academic institutions can no longer afford to be skeptical or confused. They must be committed. Assuming the gap between academia and industry can be narrowed and eventually closed, South Florida can open the floodgates because opportunity is going to flow through, making that old aphorism, “a rising tide lifts all boats,” a reality.
South Florida is well on its way to becoming a nationally ranked tech hub and collaborative efforts are on the rise between state and municipal governments, industry, academia, and investor networks. There is a movement transpiring that’s resulting in increased research and development efforts with public and private institutions positioning South Florida for an increased presence of commercial labs and government research centers that are influential in the tech hub environment.
Silicon Valley’s special sauce is no secret, and the magic recipe consists of high-tech talent, high-paid jobs, ambitious innovators, research universities, commercial labs, government research centers, a talent pipeline producing relevant credentials, access to a diverse range of capital resources, and an entrepreneurial climate where risk-taking is encouraged. Silicon Valley’s success is owed to one simple thing — collaboration.
South Florida can learn many lessons from the success of Silicon Valley, but the region must develop, implement, and measure its own strategies to become a nationally ranked tech hub. The region often refers to itself as the emerging “Silicon Valley of the East,” and it is important to differentiate, as the South Florida opportunity is unique and cannot replicate Silicon Valley. South Florida can adapt successes from Silicon Valley but must create its own special sauce due to the uniqueness of the environment.
If we eliminate the invisible walls that exist between the tricounties and create a culture of innovation, South Florida will achieve top tech hub status defined by the creation of new ideas resulting in the establishment of cutting-edge technologies, an enhanced talent skills pipeline meeting the demands of industry, new company formations, job creations, and the growth of new startup companies.