October 2, 2023

2018 Economic Yearbook

Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties: Economic strengths and challenges, people to watch


CHALLENGE: Economic Development

Category 4 Hurricane Irma inflicted significant damage on the Lower Keys in September, with some 1,800 residential and commercial buildings destroyed and more than 3,000 sustaining major damage — not including mobile homes. Nearly 40,000 households applied for help from FEMA, and 10,000 residents were left homeless.

The Lower Keys Chamber of Commerce reported that many businesses remained damaged or destroyed at the beginning of 2018. Little Palm Island Resort and Spa and the Dolphin Marina and Cottages both say they won’t reopen until next year.

After rising to 3.6% in October, the county’s unemployment rate was back to 3.0% by the start of the year. The Keys’ real problem, though, is a shortage of workers, a situation made worse by the hurricane in the Lower and Middle Keys. Most workers there are locals, not commuters from the mainland (the drive is too long), and rebuilding costs will price many of them out of housing.

CHALLENGE: Transportation

In August, work began on a $76.5-million plan to restore the Old Seven Mile Bridge and Sunset Park. While work goes on through 2021, public access to Pigeon Key is via ferry from Knights Key. Key West International Airport, meanwhile, will soon see the completion of the $10-million reconstruction of its only runway.

The county also began the process for its first road project designed to adapt to sea-level rise: Raising two low-lying, floodprone roads in Key Largo and Big Pine Key and collecting, pumping and treating stormwater runoff from the roads. It hopes to use what it learns from these projects to make broader plans, since half of the county’s 300 miles of roads are susceptible to sea-level rise during the next two decades.

People to Watch

Stacey Mitchell: Monroe County Tourism Development Council director since September, Mitchell leads the tourism industry’s recovery from Hurricane Irma. The council’s longtime sales executive, Mitchell took over from a 21-year veteran of the position at one of the Keys’ most challenging moments. She’s overseeing a marketing campaign with the goal of reminding people to visit the area without reminding them of the hurricane. More than half of the Keys’ workforce works in the tourism industry.

Lester Sola: Emilio Gonzalez left as director of Miami International AIrport in November after four years and is now Miami’s city manager. Sola now will oversee logistics and growth at the county’s top economic engine — and will have to navigate alwaysdifficult county politics.

Derek Jeter: The CEO of the Miami Marlins has taken flak for trading several top players to slash $45 million from annual payroll, but residents haven’t turned against him. Yet. He’ll have to figure out how to get fans in seats.

David Beckham: With his Miami Major League Soccer franchise finally official, he’ll need to drum up fan support through naming, logo and uniform campaigns, plus start recruiting players. He and his team will also have to deal with at least one legal challenge as they finish gathering land for their Overtown stadium.

Jorge Gonzalez: City National Bank recently became one of just three South Florida-based banks with more than $10 billion in assets. As the bank’s president and CEO, Gonzalez has largely driven its growth through new lines of business, including equipment and specialty finance, as well as a division dedicated to government, institutional and non-profit banking. He’s also leading the bank through a planned acquisition of TotalBank, which will make City National the third-largest bank based in Florida.

Peter Zalewski: During the recession, Zalewski founded Condo Vultures to chronicle and organize bulk buyers of distressed condos. He then founded CraneSpotters to cover the development boom that followed. Zalewski just became the acquisitions director for Brickell Ventures, a new private equity firm that plans to purchase recently completed downtown Miami condos at a discount from developers and unit owners during the next price decline. When he starts buying, you can bet prices are falling.

Della Heiman: Heiman’s Wynwood Yard incubator for restaurateurs received $100,000 from the John S. and James. L. Knight Foundation last year to support its development of entrepreneurs. Heiman and partner Ken Lyon are also opening North Beach Yard in Miami Beach, where they expect to have as many as 35 food, retail and fitness businesses.

Tags: Miami-Dade, Economic Yearbook

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