by Amy Martinez
Updated 7 months ago
The Price of Spice
Scientists hope to make vanilla a cash crop in Florida.
University of Florida scientists in Homestead hope to add a new crop to the state’s agricultural portfolio. Last year, a research team led by UF plant breeder Alan Chambers successfully sequenced the genome of the commercial species of vanilla. Chambers, an assistant professor of horticultural sciences at UF’s Tropical Research and Education Center, says the DNA information will help South Florida growers cultivate vanilla that’s disease-resistant and high yielding. Currently, Madagascar produces most of the world’s vanilla, followed by Indonesia, China and Mexico.
“Usually, Florida specializes in not competing against imports from countries where the cost of labor and land is cheaper. But when the price of vanilla is high, as it has been for the last couple of years, pretty much anyone can make money, even with the higher cost of labor and land in South Florida,” Chambers says. “You could easily see a few hundred acres of vanilla producing very significant amounts of cured vanilla bean. Regardless of price, I think that would be well-received.”
Earlier this year, he partnered with a Miami chocolatier to test consumer demand for Florida-grown vanilla. Carolina Quijano of Exquisito Chocolates used vanilla grown at UF’s Homestead research center to make bon bons for Mother’s Day. The limited-edition chocolates, with packaging highlighting the use of locally grown vanilla, sold out quickly.
- The Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce established a political action committee to lobby for Miami-Dade in Tallahassee and Washington. Tony Argiz, South Florida managing partner of global accounting firm BDO, heads the PAC’s board.
- Key West city commissioners directed municipal staff to propose ways to curb local cruise ship traffic in accordance with voters’ wishes. Last fall, Key West voters approved three ballot measures to cap daily cruise disembarkations at 1,500, ban any ship carrying more than 1,300 people and give docking priority to cruise lines with the best environmental and health records. The Legislature subsequently passed a bill that overturned the three initiatives by prohibiting local ballot measures from restricting maritime commerce. Key West residents packed a special meeting of the city commission in July, demanding that the measures be reinstated.
- Dallas-based Steward Health bought five South Florida hospitals from Tenet Healthcare for $1.1 billion: North Shore Medical Center, Florida Medical Center, Coral Gables Hospital, Hialeah Hospital and Palmetto General Hospital. Steward’s chief strategy officer, Ruben King-Shaw, was secretary of Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration under former Gov. Jeb Bush.
- Fort Hospitality Group plans to upgrade the Four Seasons hotel in Miami’s financial district after acquiring the 221-room property for $130 million, according to the Real Deal website.
- Miramar-based Riviera Point Development Group opened a 157-room Radisson Red hotel near Miami International Airport.
- Self-driving startup Argo AI, Ford Motor and Lyft teamed up to launch an autonomous ride-hail service in Miami-Dade. The companies said they will begin deploying self-driving cars on the Lyft network this year, with a “safety driver” inside the vehicles as a precaution.
- Staffing startup Traba, which aims to transform on-demand work scheduling at warehouses, event venues and distribution centers, raised $3.6 million in a round led by Founders Fund and General Catalyst.
- Miami Beach-based Unybrands, which buys and grows e-commerce businesses, raised $300 million from Crayhill Capital Management.
- The Miami-Dade Bar created a task force to help victims of the Champlain Towers collapse in Surfside with non-litigation pro bono work.
- Miami-based Related Group and Fontainebleau Development are developing Las Carreras, a $150-million, 642-unit apartment project in Hialeah. Construction is to be completed by late 2023. Biotechnology company Veru leased 12,155 square feet at The Gateway at Wynwood, a new office building in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood.
- Commercial real estate brokerage Colliers signed a lease for 11,273 square feet for a new South Florida headquarters at 801 Brickell, a 28-story mixeduse tower in downtown Miami.
- Miami-based John S. and James L. Knight Foundation will provide $5.5 million for research into the effects of technology on democracy, including how disinformation harms communities of color.
- Achieving Women Enterprise Foundation launched Project Miami, a four-day bootcamp and nine-month mentorship program for female entrepreneurs.
- Doral-based U.S. Century Bank plans to go public with a $40-million initial public offering of stock.
- BlockTower Capital, an investment firm specializing in cryptocurrency and blockchain technology, moved its headquarters to Miami from New York.
- Coral Gables-based Professional Bank expanded to Jacksonville and the Tampa Bay area with two new loan production offices. Banking veteran Darren Lydting will oversee the expansion from St. Petersburg.
- Anheuser-Busch will open a marketing office in Wynwood, part of a new initiative by the company to decentralize its marketing department, currently based in New York.
Read more in Florida Trend's October issue.
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