Maintaining Momentum: Leaders Bullish On South Florida’s Future — Table Of Experts

From almost any perspective, Miami and South Florida have been in an enviable position since — and even before — the pandemic.

Moderated by Carlos J. Arboleda of COI Access, participants dove into the dual forces of business relocation and technological innovation, and how they are collectively redefining and revitalizing the economics of Miami-Dade and Broward counties, and the greater South Florida region. (PHOTO CREDIT: SFBJ)

New residents and businesses moving to Florida daily before Covid spiked to well over 1,200. Their arrival brought opportunity and challenges — and a chance for business, educational and governmental leaders to assess the region’s place in the changing global marketplace and position the region to capitalize on the future.

In this recent South Florida Business Journal Table of Experts discussion held at the Brickell headquarters of host Seacoast Bank, executives from South Florida banking, development, commercial real estate, technology and economic development organizations discussed “Relocation and Innovation: Transforming South Florida’s Business Ecosystem.”

Moderated by Carlos J. Arboleda of COI Access, participants dove into the dual forces of business relocation and technological innovation, and how they are collectively redefining and revitalizing the economics of Miami-Dade and Broward counties, and the greater South Florida region.

Seacoast Bank Chairman and CEO Chuck Shaffer said this market’s arrival as a hub for technology and innovation is attracting businesses from diverse sectors, which in turn is bringing unique opportunities for growth and collaboration.

“For legacy Wall Street firms, high tech companies, the fintech community and others, it’s incredibly attractive. It’s very unique in the quality of companies relocating here,” said Shaffer, whose bank planted its flag here several years ago with the acquisitions of Apollo Bank and Professional Bank and has grown ever since. “South Florida is a unique destination. On the backside of Covid, the growth profile has accelerated with economic investment, access to high quality employees and the tax environment. This all makes it a very attractive market for them to enter.”

What are those companies seeking? The panelists agreed the short list includes talent skilled in the latest technology and customer solutions; strong schools, mostly for children of arriving families, but also for employees training for high-paying jobs; infrastructure, including transportation and airports; and a network of collaboration-minded and innovative leaders eager to grow the region.

“As Miami and the region build their innovation reputation, companies here need to embrace its promise,” said Rodrick Miller, president and CEO of the Miami-Dade Beacon Council, the county’s economic development organization.

Atop Miami’s asset base — Miami International Airport, PortMiami, the universities — is the chance to help them and others become more efficient.

“When you look at innovation, the core of technology is building around the infrastructure we already have,” Miller said. “So how can we help the port and airport be more efficient, how can we help financial services?”

The council is working to improve how it attracts and lands new business deals. In 2023, it secured 51 company relocations or expansions, with an average wage of $98,000 and half a billion in private investment. The council continues to look at how to leverage this incoming capital and plug big companies into the technology pipeline, as well as help the local workforce find their place.

“The idea should be that a dollar invested in Miami yields more in terms of the yield from that dollar being invested elsewhere on the globe,” Miller said. “And the way that we get there is by leveraging this capital, leveraging our core assets and leveraging this talent.”

Capital is a driver in any market. Whether private investment, companies coming to the market or bankers funding growth, capital is a growing community’s life blood. Think of it as a “mobile” solution, said Bhavin Shah, managing partner, Oak Lane Partners. Capital travels wherever the opportunity is. It also evolves with a changing location. Today, Miami is heavily tech focused. Yet, it was founded in many ways on real estate development. The investment sector also is funding infrastructure, such as roads, bridges and air and seaports.

Innovation Delivering Change

When asked how innovation has changed his industry, Shah said it has changed every aspect of how a business looks at success. South Florida is an example of a community that is collectively investing to drive tech-focused innovation. This includes colleges and universities, the government, public-private partnerships and others.

“Together they can find ways to build upon and utilize the results, which hopefully makes our businesses better,” Shah said.

One need only look back on the adoption of video conferencing solutions to see how tech improved the market, said Bjarne Borg, co-founder and executive chairman, Index Investment Group with Seacoast Bank. Conferencing allowed the organization to grow to more markets, to share and collaborate on content and applications and accelerate the deal making process.

“An agreement that took weeks to get down now can take a couple of days,” Borg said. “It has created a very good opportunity.”

Technology can help transform the talent equation, another key component to the region’s long-term prosperity, said Rick Connolly, co-founder and CEO, Gravity IT Resources and Gravity Data Engineering and Cloud Analytics Advisory Board Member.

“Hiring managers seeking tech talent must vet out unverified or fabricated claims from candidates’ resumes,” said Connolly, “As students taking standardized tests have learned, AI can test candidates’ technical proficiency and ensure honesty by test takers. There’s a lot of different ways to skim through the noise to make sure that people you interview can do what they claim they can do, which makes for much less friction in the interview and hiring process.”

At the Miami offices of Kaseya, tech and innovation are driving growth, said Xavier Gonzalez, the company’s chief communications officer. As an early adopter and proponent of Miami in 2015, the firm has watched competition for top talent grow. In the past, it was difficult to attract talent here. No longer, he said.

“In tech 10 years ago, it was more difficult to attract top talent. Bringing in a C-level exec from California five years ago would have been a much more difficult conversation,” Gonzalez said. “Now, it’s a no brainer. With technology and talent…that has helped attract top-level talent. That, in addition to what universities have done over the past decade, it’s starting to bear some great fruit. And that’s a testament to what we’ve been able to accomplish as a tech hub here.”

And they keep coming. Apple just signed a lease for 40,000 square feet of office space, joining the likes of Kaseya, Microsoft, Facebook and others already here. Marcos Vélez, chief visionary officer with tech firm Pragma, said his firm expanded here from its Pan-American offices. Today, it has 1,300 people throughout the hemisphere and elsewhere.

“The decision to move to Miami was easy. It’s important to be closer to the market,” Vélez said. “The movement in Florida is very important. A lot of talent in the tech business is coming here. We strongly believe we can develop a great knowledge center in financial business for our whole market that is Latin America and the United States and here in Florida.”

As one of the market’s leading commercial real estate brokers, and the one who signed the Apple deal, Tere Blanca said tech is growing the market and her firm. It streamlines processes and has driven area educators to develop curricula to meet the growing needs. Schools and businesses are collaborating to develop home-grown talent with AI at the root of future efforts.

“All businesses can benefit from it, but what we do with it in the next five, 10, 20 years will dictate how effectively we can leverage what we have before us,” said Blanca, founder, chairman and CEO, Blanca Commercial Real Estate, Inc. “It’s one of the most transformative technologies we’ve had in our lifetimes.”

Academics Drive Talent

Ron Shuffield is a career South Florida realtor. Yet, as he has ascended to become president and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices EWM Realty, the needs of new arrivals — from mid-level employees to billionaires — grew more pressing. They wanted homes to live in and schools for their children. And as the numbers of new arrivals itself grew, the importance of providing both intensified.

“Housing and schools are important to companies moving here,” Shuffield said. The situation only intensified as buyers transitioned from his customers going from second home buyers to becoming primary residents who were choosing to live and raise their families here. “Today we’re seeing a huge shift to permanent residents who are moving here, especially in the tech and financial world. Our home sales are benefitting because of that.”

Blanca said executives learn of the area’s top schools and ask if there’s a spot for their kids. Often, the answer is no.

“The county and cities need to adjust their permitting process to speed the building of new or expansion of existing schools,” Blanca said. “We have huge barriers to entry in the entitlement and permitting process for new schools. The process can take years. Government leaders can shorten the timetable. There’s a need and every municipality should help. It boosts our economic progress. Smart kids in good schools sets the stage for future workforce talent prosperity. As the region continues to transform into a place people want to work, live and raise their families, businesses need to know the talent is here. Schools and affordable housing must be addressed. If we want these relocations then we need to have an ample supply of housing that addresses a very broad demographic of employee base, not just the top level.”

It’s a pressing issue, especially as companies continue to arrive, said Malcolm Butters, president, Butters Group, a leading commercial real estate developer. The state and region benefited from pandemic-powered growth that continues unabated. Apple was just another in a long line of tech firms that felt they had to be here.

“The fear of missing out continues to draw them,” said Butters. “Growth of industrial and office space must keep up. That trophy properties in Miami’s Brickell financial corridor are fetching over $200 per square foot doesn’t seem to be discouraging new arrivals. I don’t know how many places in the country have done that. Everyone wants to be in Miami. There’s just a need for more space.”

Some companies that found a bevy of new employees who had moved to South Florida during the pandemic are going back to in-office work. As Kaseya grows its footprint here, Gonzalez said the company is attracting employees interested in the benefits of in-office work, such as collaboration, networking and mentorship, especially for younger workers. Its “center of excellence” here draws on a deep talent pool, which also is building deep relationships with area colleges and universities. As Miami rises in stature, employees are eager to sign on.

The catch for some remains salaries that are less than competitive. Miami tends to pay well. But high and rising costs of living, from housing to insurance and other expenses, create a challenge for area employers.

A Gateway For Nearshoring

Long called a “gateway to the Americas,” Miami remains a capital of Latin America where businesses find infrastructure and amenities that allow them to thrive. Miami International Airport has non-stop flights throughout the U.S. and the Americas, as well as Europe and parts of the Middle East. Its home as a hemispheric hub makes it as diverse and multilingual as any city in the U.S.

This also has benefitted organizations seeking to claim the benefits of nearshoring, or bringing labor for technology and other sectors closer to home, Velez said. His IT firm, which has offices and employees throughout the region, grew by 50% since the pandemic, in part from customers seeking the cultural, language, labor costs, even time zone benefits that offices in the hemisphere can bring versus other operations in Asia.

“We’ve definitely seen that shift happening where recruiting tech workers in Latam for U.S.-based companies will be a huge trend for 10 years,” Connolly said.

At its core, banking will remain the backbone of this growing market, Shaffer said. The balance will be for bankers to maintain “white glove” treatment, while amping up their digital offerings. The value proposition will require multiple angles — talented leaders and teams, solid technology, simplified access and “a culture that puts the client first every time.”

“When we think about what we try to bring to the market, it’s the combination of people and technology that makes the client’s experience and banker’s experience with tech better,” Shaffer said. “We try to combine that in a culture where you can get things done quickly, efficiently and consistently, and most importantly, where there is a belief and trust in our ability to execute for our clients.”

Quickfire Round

What are you most optimistic about for the rest of this year, and what challenges and opportunities exist through 2024?

“Florida is the 14th largest economy in the world, and South Florida is half of that. There’s incredible growth prospects here. The one thing we have to remember is we need to focus the energy on the community we want to be, not just five or 10 years out, but 20 years out. There’s a number of things that need to be talked through and led through and needs to be a partnership between our business community and our local leaders and an active conversation. Our future is brighter than anyplace else in the world.” – Chuck Shaffer, Chairman and CEO, Seacoast Bank

“I’m most optimistic and excited about the momentum that we have. At any given time, the Beacon Council is working with 130 to 150 companies looking to move to Miami, and over 85 of them are from outside the United States.” – Rodrick Miller, President and CEO, Miami-Dade Beacon Council

“Over the last four years, over 360 companies moved to Miami, from Chicago, California, and New York, and for the most part (many) have stayed. We are poised for tremendous opportunities over the next decade, and if everyone focuses on smart solutions to current challenges we can be unbeatable.” Tere Blanca, Founder, Chairman and CEO, Blanca Commercial Real Estate, Inc.

“I see two opportunities. One is the resourcing of goods of services from Latam, the other is that with new technologies, like AI, we can do things we couldn’t do before in this digital transformation approach in order to serve people.” Marcos Vélez, Chief Visionary Officer, Pragma

“It was one thing to have a significant growth stage that we’ve had since the pandemic. But then really establishing itself and being the moving-forward foundation of this community is going to have some big, positive ramifications for us moving forward, and not just a flash in the pan. Unlike when we’ve had tech movements in this past, this has long-term staying power.” Xavier Gonzalez, Chief Communications Officer, Kaseya

“I’m looking forward to there being net new growth in the tech space. I’m also looking to generative AI. There’s a lot of concerns in the boardroom for security and privacy. But (giving) people time back to do what’s core to their role is going to be a game changer.” Rick Connolly, Co-founder, CEO, Gravity IT Resources and Gravity Data Engineering and Cloud Analytics

“Looking at schools and attainable housing for people coming to Florida is where we see potential in the next few years, especially after the Live Local Act. For the flexible workspace, you need more remote workers and to be flexible to keep the talent. You need to have the younger talent in the office to learn from the others.” Bjarne Borg, Co-Founder and Executive Chairman, Index Investment Group, Seacoast Bank Advisory Board Member

“South Florida is on an ascending trajectory, whether it’s the business success rate or capital allocation or where our schools are ranking. If you want to attract that talent that’s highly mobile, then we have to have the infrastructure in place so that we have the attention of the people we want to bring here to work on those types of projects.” Bhavin Shah, Managing Partner, Oak Lane Partners

“Florida and South Florida, we’re in the right place, probably the best place in the nation. One thing I look forward to one day is how AI will help planning. Right now we upload plans to the city. I foresee a day where plans are created with AI. You’ll take a piece of land and you’ll tell it what to create. It will do that digitally. And when we do submit the plans electronically, instead of having permit reviewers in every city, it will be reviewed [by AI] and in a very short time, it will tell you what’s wrong with the plan.” Malcolm Butters, President, Butters Group

“For the 20-somethings and 30-somethings who wants to come here, the diversity in our community is our No. 1 asset. Today, everybody from around the world wants to be here… I hear that over and over again. The perception is, Miami is the place to be, especially for the younger generation.” Ron Shuffield, President & CEO of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices EWM Realty


  • TERE BLANCA, Founder, Chairman and CEO, Blanca Commercial Real Estate, Inc.
  • BJARNE BORG, Co-Founder & Executive Chairman, Index Investment Group, Seacoast Bank
  • MALCOLM BUTTERS, President, Butters Group
  • RICK CONNOLLY, Co-founder, CEO, Gravity IT Resources and Gravity Data Engineering and Cloud Analytics, Advisory Board Member
  • XAVIER GONZALEZ, Chief Communications Officer, Kaseya
  • RODRICK MILLER, President and CEO, Miami-Dade Beacon Council
  • CHUCK SHAFFER, Chairman and CEO, Seacoast Bank
  • BHAVIN SHAH, Managing Partner, Oak Lane Partners
  • RON SHUFFIELD, President and CEO, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices EWM Realty
  • MARCOS VÉLEZ, Chief Visionary Officer, Pragma



Source: SFBJ