The Floridian city of Fort Lauderdale has got a boost from what has been termed ‘the great pandemic migration’. 

“Post-Covid, we are seeing a dynamic that no one could predict,” Fort Lauderdale’s mayor Dean Trantalis tells fDi on the sidelines of the Annual Investment Meeting held in Dubai on March 29–31. 

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More than 263,000 people moved to Florida from other US states between July 1, 2020 and July 1, 2021, according to the US Census Bureau.

Mr Trantalis says that Florida has become “a very attractive place” for people looking to move from big cities such as New York, due to factors like no income tax, good weather and less expensive housing.

“Our population is growing by leaps and bounds. The goal is to ensure our infrastructure will be sustainable for these population increases,” he says. One innovative project is under contract with Elon Musk’s The Boring Company, which has proposed digging a pair of underground tunnels from downtown Fort Lauderdale to the city’s beachfront.

“We now need to take advantage of other technologies that have been created that allow for new approaches to transportation,” says Mr Trantalis. He notes that the tunnels will bypass densely populated residential and business areas, which are currently a “barrier” for people moving from one part of the city to another.

“If we can bypass all of that, and do it in a safe and efficient way, we will find ourselves completely transforming what transportation means in southern Florida,” he adds.

Friendly competition

Fort Lauderdale is part of a sprawling metro area stretching along Florida’s south-eastern Atlantic coast, which includes Miami and West Palm Beach. There is “friendly competition” between Fort Lauderdale and its neighbouring cities, says Mr Trantalis, noting that the idea of working with Elon Musk was also a goal of Miami’s mayor Francis Suarez.

Mr Trantalis says he admires his “good friend” Mr Suarez for “thinking outside the box” by embracing cryptocurrencies and allowing his municipality to invest in digital assets. But he is still wary of “using taxpayer money to invest in funds that are still speculative”.

“I’m not quite sure Fort Lauderdale is ready to go in that direction,” he adds.

Even without embracing crypto, the city has been successful in attracting investors. Figures from fDi Markets indicate that in 2021, Fort Lauderdale attracted its highest number of greenfield investments from companies based in other US states. 

Restaffing the port

One major challenge facing the city is congestion at the local Port Everglades, one of the US’s most active cargo and cruise ship ports. Due to supply chain disruption at the end of 2021, Port Everglades had long lines of cargo ships waiting to dock.

“We’re on the road to making sure that there won’t be long lines and cargo ships out to the ocean anymore,” says Mr Trantalis. “The big thing right now is getting quality, talented, experienced people to fill the jobs that were once there pre-Covid.”

Despite a growing population, Mr Trantalis notes that the seaport, airport and the whole hospitality industry are still missing tens of thousands of workers compared to before the pandemic.

“That has a significant impact on our ability to produce a quality experience when you come to Fort Lauderdale, but we’re still making it work,” he says. 

Staff shortages aside, Mr Trantalis believes Fort Lauderdale is on the right path to maintain a sustainable environment and pursuing novel approaches to urban development.

“Otherwise, if you don’t, your city will die,” he says.

This article first appeared in the April/May 2022 print edition of fDi Intelligence. View a digital edition of the magazine here.