Writer: Max Crampton-Thomas
2 min read April 2021 — Alfred Sanchez is bullish on Miami. The pandemic has had the inadvertent effect of drawing people’s attention to the city from across the country and the travel, hospitality and tech industries look poised to benefit. In an interview with Invest:, Sanchez, the president and CEO of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber has been hard at work making sure that Miami businesses have the information they need to get through the new landscape.
How would you summarize the state of the Miami business ecosystem?
I think it’s probably stronger now than at the very beginning of the pandemic and, compared to other major metropolitan economies, it’s probably among the most vibrant. We’re very heavily centered on tourism, which is coming back after declining at the beginning of the pandemic. We’re changing too. Real estate is very big, the tech sector is coming up, trade and cargo is huge here; in fact, trade and cargo are around 15% above 2019 levels. We have a huge financial sector Downtown. Overall, the fact that we opened up sooner than most other major cities while still keeping the virus relatively in check has led to many people seeing Miami as a place to get away to. When they arrive here, they think this may be a place they want to stay and bring their business.
How has the business community adapted to the influx of new arrivals?
It has been a problem but what a great problem to have. We’re working with a program initiated by Mayor Levine Cava called ReNew305. Basically, it’s looking to get ahead of this influx of new business that has come to the city. How do we help these businesses scale up? How do we stay ahead of the training curve to ensure there is a qualified workforce? The Chamber of Commerce is working in concert with the public and private sectors and polling the business community. We ask them if they’re hiring, when and how many people. What skill set will they need? Then, we’re working in collaboration with Miami Dade College, FIU, University of Miami, CareerSource South Florida and others to make sure we have the necessary workforce.
What is the future of the tech sector here in Miami?
We’ve been asking that question for 20 years. I don’t think it’s easy to predict the answer, but what I see right now is that companies are coming down here. When more of them come here, it means that more investors are going to start looking here too. Ten years ago, the tech culture was minute, almost wholly off the radar. Investors would see that and wouldn’t be motivated to come down here. Now, it’s a different story. There are more tech companies; the critical mass is growing and they’re more concentrated. I think investors see that. Now, something is shifting: for many decades, the investor in South Florida was a real estate investor but now the tech investors — a different animal — are here, they’re hunting for good opportunities and they see a reason that makes South Florida worth their time. This is wonderful.
How is the Chamber of Commerce rallying to help its members through these challenging times?
Across the board, our companies have been incredible. The first thing we needed to do was take statistical snapshots of what was going on with business throughout the crisis. We knew the business climate would change, we knew it would be long term, and we knew that, as a result of the pandemic, there would be new business trends emerging that would require new strategies or services. We had to know what was going on and document it. We are accomplishing that through a series of business surveys done with our partners at BDO. The other thing people needed besides information was the ability to go digital, to go remote, and to get access to capital. We put on a series of virtual town halls, attended by over a thousand people, where businesses were able to get answers to their questions. The Chamber propped up a program called GMCC Cares, assisting businesses in applying for various relief programs. People had questions and needed help, and we made sure they got answers and help.
What is the outlook for the travel sector moving forward?
I think it’s very hopeful. For one, travel didn’t grind to the same standstill here that it did everywhere else. So, our travel sector has been, comparatively speaking, doing better. Miami is open and people want to come here. If you look at the tourism numbers today, we are at 92% of the capacity in previous years and it’s been improving all year. The capacity is coming back.
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