It has been a tough time for businesses in Miami’s hotel, travel and events sectors, which city leaders say have been crushed by the Covid-19 pandemic. The US city is now focused on supporting its people, unifying its community, building back sustainably and driving innovation while waiting for the tourism industry to resume once the pandemic is under control.
“We’re a city that loves to socialise. We like to party and have a good time and the pandemic has impacted our economy tremendously,” Miami’s mayor Francis Suarez tells fDi.
“But the city has shown itself to be very resilient throughout these adverse times. People have banded together. There have been no civil disturbances. We haven’t seen spikes in crime. We’re doing everything we can to get federal aid down to our citizens in a way that can keep them as calm and safe as possible during this difficult time.”
He says that the city has been using federal money to support small businesses with rent subsidies, microloans and grants. Mr Suarez adds that Miami is experiencing high levels of interest from businesses in states that have higher taxes and have been bit harder by the pandemic. “We’re getting a tremendous number of people from Silicon Valley and New York who want to invest,” he says.
Mr Suarez is excited about opportunities for innovation and technology, which, he says, are part of the city’s brand. “There is no city that shouldn’t be fighting to get a larger piece of the [national] tech ecosystem. And there isn’t any industry that it doesn’t impact, from fintech — which is something that we’re trying to differentiate ourselves within the city of Miami — to communications technology.”
Technology is also transforming the all-important travel sector, and this could have a serious effect on fortunes. As Mr Suarez points out: “Zoom is so ubiquitous. I really think that business travel is going to be reduced significantly.”
But he believes there will be growth in other forms of tourism once people feel comfortable with travelling. “That will happen either when there’s a vaccine or cases diminish to a level where people feel safe again,” he says.
The big issue for people in the city is sustainability, having recently seen two hurricanes devastate central America. “For Miami to be successful and resilient, it has to be water resilient. And it has to protect its water assets,” says Mr Suarez.
He reveals that the city is taking measures to protect its bay and improve water quality because they are huge economic engines for the city. “We’re also strengthening our infrastructure against hurricanes so we can cope with any storms that Mother Nature throws our way,” he says.
“Sustainability is becoming less of a partisan issue and more of an economic issue,” he adds. “People are starting to realise that good ecology is good economy. So it’s less Republican or Democrat and more about infrastructure investment, making sure that the economy that you have today — the eco-economy, particularly ecotourism — is strong and robust into the future.”
Speaking after the US election, Mr Suarez reflects on the importance of being a unifier. “I was elected on a non-partisan basis by 86% of my residents in the city of Miami. That doesn’t happen if you’re excessively divisive or excessively partisan.
“I’ve always tried to reach across the aisle, create commonality between different parties and factions. That’s what people want. They want people who are creating peace and creating unity, and not trying to figure out how to attribute it to one party or another.”
This article first appeared in the December/January print edition of fDi Intelligence. View a digital edition of the magazine here.