Still, Mayor Suarez believes that recruiting the right people can change that. “We’ve been a city that, for many decades, has produced talent that we’ve lost to bigger cities,” he says. “That’s something we want to recapture.” Miami has attracted a few smaller startups, like sleep tech company Eight Sleep. Matteo Franceschetti, Eight Sleep’s founder, moved to Miami for a higher quality of life, but found that the city was also good for networking. “I connected with more people here in the past month than in New York City in the past year,” he says. Franceschetti wants others to join him: In January, Eight Sleep announced a new promotion of 20 percent off mattresses to tech founders, investors, and employees who relocate to Miami.
“I think it’s extremely exciting for there to be new entrepreneurs, investors, and companies coming here,” says Natalia Martinez-Kalinina, the director of performance management at REEF Technology, which became Miami’s first tech unicorn in 2018 (when it was called ParkJockey). Martinez-Kalinina says newcomers will make the existing sector much richer, but “you have to come with the mindset that most things are not 100 percent built.” Miami isn’t a city with a massive tech industry ready to plug into—it needs a group of thoughtful people to come prepared with ideas about what that industry, and the city itself, should look like.
Those who are enthusiastic about Miami’s future as a tech hub think it can avoid the growing pains of Silicon Valley, where the rise in technology companies has accompanied rising inequality and a housing crisis, among other issues. Miami already has the second-worst economic inequality in the nation by some measures—worse, in fact, than any city in California. One-third of households in Miami-Dade County earn less than $35,000 a year, according to Annie Lord, the executive director of the housing nonprofit Miami Homes for All. “The problem is not going to be a few hundred people with very high net wealth moving to Miami,” says Lord. “It’s when you’re talking about the creation of new industries that dramatically change how people relocate to Miami, that’s really going to have a massive effect.” If tech entrepreneurs and startups relocate to Miami, they could create new opportunities for the people living there, ranging from service industry jobs to high-paying office work. But it could also exacerbate existing inequalities. A writer for The Miami Herald recently warned locals that “an influx of backpack-wearing venture capital disciples” would do to Miami what they’ve done in every other city: “raise housing costs astronomically, increase the douchebag factor in the region and generally make life miserable for everybody else.”
Mayor Suarez, for his part, believes that conflating income inequality and the tech industry is an oversimplification. “There’s a presupposition that income inequality has been brought by tech,” he says. “It’s not created by an industry, or a company.” Instead, he points to the housing crunch in cities like San Francisco, which have exacerbated homelessness and poverty. The Miami metro area, too, faces an affordable housing shortage, but Suarez argues that Miami-Dade County has “a tremendous amount of underutilized land”—something San Francisco does not—and the capacity to grow along with a new industry.
Some developments, however, have made urbanists more nervous about gentrification. Last year, the city approved a $1 billion development called the Magic City Innovation District, a commercial and residential area marketed to startups and entrepreneurs. The district is located in a part of the city known as Little Haiti, where many people live below the poverty line, and activists have argued that new construction threatens to push those people out.