If you listen to newly elected Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, the city's motto is "dance with the one who brung you" -- and in his case, that would be tourism. Mr. Levine, who made his fortune in the cruise ship industry, largely self-funded his successful run for Miami Beach mayor promising to reinforce a more steady-as-you-go mission for the city agenda.
Given his pedigree, one shouldn't be surprised by Mr. Levine's recent off-the-cuff comments at the Conference of Mayors winter meeting in D.C., reported by the Washington Post. When asked about Miami Beach's prospects in becoming a tech hub, Levine replied with, "It's the dumbest idea in the world."
Yes, that little zinger demonstrates a commitment to mediocrity and a "Las Vegas on the beach"-style vision of our Magic City that leaves me a bit apoplectic. Sure, Mr. Levine is a pragmatic businessman, but one who seems only interested in the most obvious vision, tantamount to that of bringing sand to the beach. This stance only helps to polish our less than attractive late-'90s and early-2000s reputation. No doubt that beach tourism is paramount; however, this type of one-dimensional, "rising waters be damned" attitude does nothing to substantively move Miami Beach forward.
Mr. Mayor, look, I get it, "disruption" and "pivot" are all buzzwords used ad nauseam wherever there is mention of start-up culture, promising to potentially re-energize a city, with pipe dreams of pseudo-gentrification of long-forgotten bastions of entrepreneurship (e.g., Detroit), to be rebooted for a new digital economy. However, Miami Beach and its sister city across the bridge are primed to attract spearheads of innovation in tech. After all, Miami is the gateway to South America, and given the recent statistics released by Twitter, Latin America and the Spanish-speaking population in the United States are the fastest growing, most dominate segment within their platform and Facebook follows close behind with very similar results. South Florida would seem the obvious choice to set up shop to service this brimming opportunity -- not to mention the fact Florida has some of the nation's friendliest tax codes in the country for small business.
Miami and Miami Beach are two cities inextricably linked in which both will either benefit or suffer behind choices made independently by their respective city officials. In Miami's case, they are embracing the start-up culture with the red-hot Wynwood art district already claiming Knight Foundation-supported Lab Miami as one of its residents. Miami Beach has a perfect opportunity to jump into the tech game; however, our current mayor's vision looks more like a Midwestern tourist, grabbing a ride to the Clevelander, in an old taxi, with a "broken" credit card machine, rather than a tech professional taking in our beautiful city in the style to which he has become accustomed in most other large cities -- yes, that is an Ubër reference (#MiamiNeedsUber).
For tech entrepreneurs considering Miami Beach their home, the beautiful beaches should be the cherry on top; however, it would be hard to argue that a major part of the appeal isn't the beautiful weather and coastlines we offer. Many of of our best and brightest young people are asking themselves why they must suffer another snowmeggeden in NYC or deal with the exorbitant rent in San Francisco? Why should we shun those very individuals who are looking to constructively contribute to our economy, not to mention help relieve us of our duty as the butt of SNL jokes?
Now is the time that we have to stand up and take responsibility for our own destiny and not just stay the course in a world that is dynamic, increasingly competitive and ever changing, but make the necessary adjustment in attitude to embrace new opportunities. Mr. Mayor, as Miami Beach's leader and figurehead around the country, I'm not asking you to abandon the idea that beaches and tourism are vital for Miami Beach -- they are, and that is obvious. However, I encourage you to think beyond what is right in front of you and instead envision a city that can actually usher in a new era that includes tech start-ups and innovation.
I remain optimistic that a Silicon Beach can live alongside a Silicone Beach.
Follow Gerard Bush on Twitter: www.twitter.com/GerardBush