Miami prevails in FT-Nikkei ranking by expanding appeal beyond Latin America

For decades, Miami has been known as the US’s gateway to Latin America. But spending even a few hours in the office of Francis Suarez, the city’s 45-year-old mayor, makes it clear the South Florida metropolis has become a magnet for investors from other corners of the globe as well. Seated in the waiting area on one recent sunny afternoon was Lech Walesa, the former Polish president and anti-communist crusader, patiently waiting his turn for an audience with the mayor. Aides excitedly discuss the possible arrival in the city of the Saudi-backed investment conference, dubbed “Davos in the desert”. “We are welcoming, and we want the best and the brightest, and the best-capitalised people here. Why? Because it’s going to strengthen us,” says Suarez, seated in his white-walled modernist office. “Our wages are growing faster than anyone else’s.”

Miami’s rising status as an international hub, which has helped land it in the top spot of the inaugural FT-Nikkei Investing in American ranking of the best US cities for foreign businesses, has coincided with a similar rise as a place of choice for domestic investors. Financiers from New York and tech entrepreneurs from California began moving to the city during the coronavirus pandemic, citing its light-touch lockdown measures and a warm climate that made working from home tolerable. Overseas investors followed suit. Even as foreign direct investment US-wide plummeted in 2020, it jumped 70 per cent for Miami, with the UK, Panama and Spain leading the way, according to data from fDi Markets, an information provider owned by the Financial Times that tracks greenfield FDI, or cross-border investments that create new jobs and facilities. “Miami has traditionally marketed itself as the gateway to the Americas, and it’s still true,” says Ilona Vega Jaramillo, vice-president at the Beacon Council, Miami’s economic development organization. “But I would even say we are outgrowing that. I think we are a global city centre now.”

Many locals give credit to Suarez, who put his city on the radar of new out-of-state investors with a playful four-word tweet in 2020: “How can I help?” (The tweet was in answer to a Silicon Valley executive’s suggestion that frustrated tech investors abandon Northern California for South Florida.) Suarez, who likes to call his city “the capital of capital”, followed up by creating more facilities to help businesses set up shop, including an office focused on assisting potential investors. For those from overseas, it didn’t hurt that more than half of Miami’s residents are foreign born, the highest proportion of any large US city. Suarez has been able to accomplish this repositioning almost entirely through the force of his personality; Miami’s mayor has limited executive powers, and the office is a part-time job. A Republican, he has managed to hew closely to the party’s historic reputation as a friend to business — local taxes remain low — while remaining openly critical of Donald Trump’s nativist, anti-immigrant policies. “The mayor’s done a really nice job of creating this snowball effect for us to take a look at it seriously,” says Kurt MacAlpine, chief executive of Canadian asset manager CI Financial. The company chose Miami for its US headquarters last year and recently doubled its lease at 830 Brickell, the newest office building in Miami’s financial district and home to other big names like Citadel, Microsoft, AerCap, and Thoma Bravo. The building is due for completion in January and expected rent has nearly doubled to $120 per square foot in three years.

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