“We are the future great city in this country”
Huge plans are under way to turn Miami-Dade County into one of the most business-friendly, economically diverse and dynamic business centers in the U.S. Mayor Carlos Gimenez speaks with United World about the “One Community, One Goal” plan, the various public investments, and the county’s close ties with Latin America and beyond
Miami right now is the gateway for Latin America to North America, ranked by Fortune in 2009 as “The Cleanest City” and ranked by America Economia as “The Capital of Latin America”. I would like you to highlight Miami’s strengths. What are the city’s competitive advantages that makes it so attractive?
Number one is geography, the location where we are located on the globe. We are the southern-most major city in the United States. There are cities south of us but not major cities of the United States. We have a subtropical climate. It’s naturally beautiful and the breezes come in every day and the air is fresh. The sun, the light, is even different here. So much so that we were getting more and more productions and movie productions here because of the light and from its natural beauty and location, so we’re fortunate in that aspect. But more so than that is also our human capital, the demographics of Miami.
We are majority Hispanic community in the United States, mostly from either Cuba or South America. I’m Cuban myself. Because of our geography and our demographics, we’ve also been able to attract a number of people from all different parts of the world. They like the excitement of Miami. We have a lot of Britons, we have a lot of French, we have a lot of Germans, we’re getting more Russians, a sizeable Muslim community, a sizeable Indian community, and so there are over a hundred languages spoken here in Miami. And so, from that perspective, we really are a global city.
The one thing that kind of differentiates Miami from a lot of other places too in terms of the United States itself is that we are what the United States is going to look like in 30 or 40 years. We’re already here. We are the future and a lot of people understand that and want to be part of it. And I feel, I know, that we are the future. We are the future great city in this country.
You talked about being New York one day. New York was the center of this country for a long time and will probably continue to be the center of the country. We’re not really in competition with New York. We’re something different than New Yorkers. New York may be the center of maybe America and Europe, but we’re the center of America and the South. And that’s what we will become.
We won’t hold that position exclusively. There are some other cities that may share it, but we will be the predominant one. That’s just how I see what will happen. We’re taking the right steps now. We’re taking the right steps in order to make that happen.
Number one, we have made the investments that are necessary, our airport. We probably spent $6 billion at the airport to transform that from a 1950s-1960s airport into a modern airport. In both the north and south terminal, 85% to 90% of our passengers will be going in and out of a basically brand new airport.
We are growing and that airport is growing tremendously. It’s the number one economic generator here in this county. It is both the number one cargo airport and international passenger airport in the United States, and it will continue to grow regardless of what happens to American Airlines. We will continue to grow because we know that we are the one – maybe one or two hubs of American that actually is profitable, and all that profitability comes from our connecting to South America, the Caribbean, and Central America.
What are some of the main points that you’re focusing on for the “One Community, One Goal” initiative?
“One Community, One Goal” is something trying to diversify our economy. We’ve been an economy based on finance, trade, and tourism for a long time, but with that you’re now susceptible to the ups and downs of the economy around the world. No matter how much we diversify, we understand that we are susceptible but we need to start to branch out because there’s so much more to Miami than just tourism and finance, and we want to expand the trade tremendously. We want to become a logistics center and become a manufacturer of certain goods. We want to be a high-tech center.
The NAP of the Americas is here. We invested in it by a private company, but the public sector had to put it up in a year, which we did. We allowed it to go up in nine months, from no plans to building. The ribbon cutting was in nine months. That helps make us to be one of the five best, most interconnected cities in the world. And that, again, is the future.
The investments we’re making at the port with the tunnel is over a $1 billion, with the dredge. We’re deepening the channel to over 50 feet. As one of three ports in the eastern seaboard able to go 50 feet, this allows us now to take advantage of Post Panamax ships. That’s why we’re doing the infrastructure work now in order to take advantage of that.
We’re reconnecting the port to the rail and have the tunnel. All of that will come together by the time the Panama Canal opens up and we will be ready. There’s no reason why the ships won’t be passing us. They’ll be coming in here and taking goods and then they’ll ship goods out of Miami. We’re going to have inland ports and we’re going to have merchandising distribution centers and warehousing. All that’s going to be somewhere out to the west, there’s a lot going on here.
And in order to achieve those goals, how would you say the private sector is getting involved in working in line with the government’s move?
We have to spend money for infrastructure when we do that and then the private sector really is the one who’s going to be the driving force behind it all. They can see a lot of things quicker than Government can. We are putting our money where our mouth is in order to get ships here. We have to deepen the cut, the port, and we’re doing it. In order to get more trade and more passengers here, we have to do something about the airport, and we’re doing that.
But in order for businesses to be attracted here, as Government, our part is to put in place the right set of regulations and permit processes and make it easier for businesses to establish here and remain here, and we’re doing that too. It’s the private sector at the end that creates most of the jobs. I’m one that believes that we help the creation of jobs. We don’t create the jobs.
What I say about helping create jobs is that we create the environment for job growth. We are re-evaluating all our regulations and also rewriting a lot them. We’re getting rid of things that take time and streamlining processes because we want to be a much more customer and business-friendly community here, and I think we finally got it that a lot of regulations didn’t make sense; maybe they were all done with good intentions but with laws, there are unintended consequences you’d only see after a certain amount of time. So, those laws that have unintended consequences, they really aren’t doing what they were intended to do. We’re going to start to get rid of them.
On a different sector, if you looked out that window five years ago, half those buildings wouldn’t have been there. We had a bust in real estate, but actually most of these units have already been sold. We’re already seeing people coming back and more development. What’s slowly developing is the 24-hour downtown, a true urban core of people walking, shopping, and eating at night, and the creation of buzz around the core.
You go a little bit further north and find the Performing Arts Center and the arena. A little bit west you have the baseball stadium. I envision when I come back 15 or 20 years from now, I won’t recognize it again because it will be something completely different.
I also envision that the south of the river is going. North of the river hasn’t gone yet but in five or 10 years, it’s going to be different. When you walk around here, it’s going to be completely different.
The U.S has a lot of agreements with Latin American countries, such as the new Free Trade Agreement with Colombia that was recently celebrated. However, one has to take into account that Latin America is not depending as much on the States now as China becomes a bigger trading partner. What is Miami-Dade County doing in order to strengthen the bonds with Latin America?
We participate in trade missions all the time. I think the greatest asset that we have is the fact that we have so many Latin Americans here, and a lot of those who live here actually own a lot of the businesses that are in Latin America. That is a great benefit to us – that this is a natural home for them.
We’re also not looking just south; we’re looking east, too. As those ships come from Panama it could be that a lot of those end up here and then we end up shipping Chinese goods down to Latin America through here as the ships come and go.
I said that we’re going to be the capital of Latin America, but it doesn’t mean that all our eyes are there. We are also looking west to Europe and east to Asia. All the infrastructure improvements that we’ve made will allow us to ease trade with everybody.
So it’s not just American goods that are going to go into Latin America; you’re going to have Chinese and European goods going in. We have American goods, we have Chinese goods, we have European goods, we have Latin American goods. They’re all here. The new globalization is going to survive competition and who makes that product better.
In a competitive world, due to globalization, education is very important. Human talent is very important as a competitive advantage and these potential investors will be looking at the human talent here in Miami. What would you say regarding higher education and human talent here?
Well, I think part of the problem that we have here is that we have a lot of human talent. A lot of it leaves because the opportunities aren’t here yet. I think one of the co-founders of Facebook was from Miami. There’s another co-founder of Yahoo! or Google that was also from this area.
So the talent here is here. Actually, we educate more people here and more and more young minds here and then they leave. So the talent is here and we just need to provide them the opportunity to stay.
Actually, part of my reason for running for Mayor and trying to establish this is that I have a family, children, and grandchildren, and I want them to stay here. If Miami doesn’t give them the opportunity, they’re going to leave. So, that’s one of the key points to me for running, because our children and our grandchildren deserve the opportunities that we have. They deserve better than we have. Every generation should live to leave it better for the next. That’s our responsibility.
So it’s my responsibility to leave it better for your generation and you are responsible to leave it better for your children. Everybody should take that very seriously, and if you do, then the world will progress. That’s definitely one of the reasons why I’m in public service.
Have you heard about Geeks on a Plane? A group of young geeks that are all worth like $500 million each?
This is a group that flies out of different cities in the United States and then goes to different places throughout the world. They were here in Miami just a couple of weeks ago, starting their trip into Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Chile and they stopped here to gather everybody. They’re looking now at Miami and we were actually trying to entice them to come and spend more time here. It’s just the start the trip here. I want you to end the trip here.
Would that have anything to do with the new Launch Pad program?
Well, we committed this document as Mayor that I was going to look to try to fund part of the efforts of Launch Pad. That’s just one of the things that we’re looking at. I recently traveled to Israel – I told you that I also look east. So I traveled to Israel and was part of five mayors that were asked by the American Jewish Community to go over there to look; number one, at the whole Israeli situation, but also look at Israeli startups and what they’re doing there.
Israel is an incredible nation of a 7.5 million people. They are number three in the number of startups in the world behind the United States and China. But we have 300 million people and China has over a billion. That’s a country of 7.5 million. So there’s a lot of intellectual power there.
Not percentage? By number?
Number. Not percentage. Number, all right? Not per capita, no. If it’s per capita, they’d be number one, they’d be way above number one. So they told me that most of the applications you see on your smartphone, they developed over there. We’re trying to see what we can do to try to bring some of that over here.
The problem that we have here, and one thing I’m trying to rectify, is financing. They need “angels” and a lot of the “angels” are over on the West Coast or they’d be in New York. We need to get and bring many “angels” down here. They’ll come once we establish that this is a new Launch Pad, a new incubation area for tomorrow. Then, once the ball starts rolling, it’ll get better and better.
And what are the incentives for these business people that would come to Miami?
We give them incentives to come. Let’s say just talk about Israel, we have a large Jewish community here. We’re probably the number two Jewish community in the United States. We are also going to be the gateway to Latin America. And, to them, that’s a new market.
And in terms of taxes? Is there an incentive for them?
To establish a business here, it’s a very good state in terms of taxes. We’re probably one of the lowest in the nation, much lower than anywhere in the northeast. It’s much easier and much cheaper to do business here than it is in some other cities around the United States because of the tax structure of the state and even our own tax structure.
We don’t have a corporate tax here; neither a city nor countywide corporate tax. There may be a state corporate tax but there is no income tax here and no state income tax. A lot of states have a state income tax.
You don’t have to pay as much and yet you still have a better quality of life because the expense to live here is not as much as some of the major cities in the United States. Another thing that attracts businesses here, and people in general, is security.
Here, you don’t have to worry about walking in the streets. I’ve heard from some of the folks that I’ve run into from South America and other places that, here it’s pretty secure. It’s very secure. And, for them, that’s another quality of life issue. I’m the Mayor of this county. I drive myself. I don’t have security detail, and I feel perfectly safe. And I’m the Mayor. So I’m sure everybody else is going to be just fine.
Latin America is sometimes a bit afraid of coming to the States because they feel that somehow they’re not treated the way they’re expecting to be treated. How do you welcome these Latin Americans in the Miami-Dade County?
All of our employees have actually gone through Disneyworld training. They actually have! Disneyworld comes down here and teaches our employees how they are to interact and how to be more customer-friendly.
It doesn’t mean that it’s 100%, but we take it so seriously that we actually take the time and spend the money to have that kind of an organization come down and teach our employees how to deal with the public. They’re public servants and they’re here to welcome and make the experience of everybody that visits here as good as possible.
I can’t say that that’s true for everybody. Miami is an interesting place, but, by and large, somebody coming especially from Central and South America should have no problem here. The language is spoken everywhere. You don’t have to speak English here to get along. There are plenty of kinfolk, which is plenty of brethren living in this town from all the countries of Central and South America and the Caribbean.
One of the things we are finishing up right now is the the American Airlines section of the airport, which is where most of the international passengers end up. Part of the finishing of the project is actually the Customs and Immigration section, and we are expanding that tremendously. Even though we’re having a lot of base that you can actually go walk into, the TSA or the Federal Government hasn’t given us enough people to man all that. That’s actually a federal responsibility.
I’ve spoken to Mark Hatfield, who was the TSA Director here and he has assured us that once we’ve built it, they will come. So, even that should be a lot easier. Our new baggage handling system was put in for service a couple of months ago. It’s doing very well. So that experience is going to get a lot better. I understand that people coming from abroad have had a long wait because of the construction that’s going on, but that’s going to be over pretty soon. You’ll have a pretty pleasant experience. The shops inside the airport are pretty nice, too.