Few cities in Amazon’s Top 20 HQ2 shortlist scored more of a moral victory than Miami.
Local media and economic development offices hailed the decision as evidence to the world that (in the words of Alyce Robertson, executive director of Miami’s Downtown Development Authority) “We’re not just a fun-in-the-sun city. We move from our ‘vacation spot’ designation and into ‘international business capital’.”
Others used it to highlight the brainpower produced by the South Florida region, citing the fact that Jeff Bezos graduated from Miami Palmetto High in 1982.
Michael Finney, president of the Beacon Council, Miami-Dade’s economic-development agency, articulated the opportunity for the city to The Miami Herald earlier this year: “Miami should be a target for consideration as other businesses are considering expansion locations. So we will take that messaging and build that into our marketing narrative. It’s a very important thing.”
So now Miami—long a draw for frozen and curious Americans seeking exoticism without a passport or currency exchange—officially has brains and beauty, right?
Actually, it always has.
The natural attributes—turquoise Biscayne Bay lapping white-powder sand while sun-kissed bodies frolic everywhere—always captured the world’s imagination and crystallized the city’s hedonistic brand. But it’s Miami’s openness to immigrants (and, more recently, the LGBTQ community) that ranks it #1 in the country in our People category—the proportion of population that is foreign-born, that speaks other languages at home and that has attained a certain level of education.
The city boasts more than 100 languages other than English spoken at home, according to the latest census. The Educational Attainment part of the ranking, however, lags at #46.
This ethnic mix is heavy on a Latin American and Caribbean flavor, with a third of the population of Cuban descent, followed by Haitian, Nicaraguan, Honduran, Dominican and Colombian in perpetually shifting order. This tapestry of neighborhoods that sometimes resemble autonomous mini cities rivals 19th century New York—Little Havana, Little Haiti and even Little Tel Aviv and Little Scandinavia. Urban explorers sometimes go blocks before being able to communicate in English.
But Miami’s historic embrace of a crossroads of the Americas has also meant a business advantage few cities claim.
The city is home to one of the largest concentrations of international banks in the U.S. as well as the largest hub, outside of Mexico City, New York and L.A., of Spanish-language media.
Its decades-long embrace of art and design as a common language is also paying off.
Emboldened by the Art Basel fair’s arrival, the opening of the Frank Gehry-designed New World Symphony Center and the adjacent Soundscape—a 2.5-acre public park designed by Dutch architectural firm West 8—paved the way for a torrent of arts-related infrastructure that, per capita, is unrivalled in the country.
The Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts is a tropical Lincoln Center in the city’s downtown—one of only four centers in the country with separate performance facilities for ballet, opera, theater and symphonic live shows.
The Miami Design District, with its art-filled plaza and new retail venues housing coveted luxury brands, opened recently, followed by the new Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami. Just a few months ago, the Museum of Art and Design emerged from its reno at the Freedom Tower at 600 Biscayne Blvd.
The city’s arts energy is also fueling other infrastructure projects like the highly anticipated convention center’s $615-million expansion this year. In a massive commitment to the arts, the city has invested approximately $7 million in public art throughout the convention center site, one of the largest public art commissions in U.S. history.