Florida Realtors economist: Florida cities are switching their economic-development focus. Instead of trying to attract companies, they’re putting a greater emphasis on attracting people as the “work from anywhere” trend continues to pick up steam.
ORLANDO, Fla. – Economic development traditionally focuses on a particular place – a state, region, county or town. Strong companies are attracted to a location that has a favorable operating environment – where there is a place for their type of operation and regulations that support their industry.
Of course, they also need a deep bench of people with the skills that their industry requires willing to move there for work. This skilled workforce is attracted to places where there are jobs, but they also want a favorable living environment – somewhere they actually enjoy the lifestyle when they aren’t working. This speaks to the overall quality of life, which also appeals to the companies and their executives.
But business as usual is changing as a result of the pandemic. Economic developers are completely re-thinking the way they’ve approached business attraction and workforce development – it is as if they face a blank slate to consider new possibilities.
One of the biggest examples of this is Silicon Valley, which was built around that tight connection between companies, resources and talent. Proximity to Sand Hill Road, where are all the major venture capital firms are located, was seen as critical to the tech ecosystem built around the next-big idea working with the right deep-pocketed investor. Now the very companies that made it so we can ostensibly work from home told their own employees to do exactly that. As a result, the tech diaspora has begun and, so far, some of the biggest places these high-wage earners are going are places like Boise and Miami.
A tweet from a prominent venture capitalist in December 2020 said, “Okay guys, hear me out: What if we moved Silicon Valley to Miami?” The mayor of Miami answered back, “How can I help?” The mayor reported that these were the four most powerful words he’s ever written, as it got over 2.3 million impressions and started conversations with numerous firms looking to relocate to Miami.
This is just one example obviously, but it shows that economic development has begun to flip on its head. It used to be about place – a “build it and they will come” type thing. But now, the focus has become less about the firms and more about the people.
This can present some challenges to commercial brokers unless they figure out ways to capitalize on this trend – creating a way to sell more than building space but also the quality of life for employees.
Another example of focusing on the people instead of the firms is the concept of “Zoom Towns” – places positioning themselves to be the ideal location for people to “work from anywhere.”
The Naples Chamber of Commerce has been working with other economic development organizations in their region to attract people, regardless of company or industry, to come and work from their city. They emphasize the quality-of-life offerings Naples has, including no snow in the winter, good schools, and relative lower cost of living to people who could realistically Zoom from anywhere.
Take some time to connect with your local economic development folks to see if there is a similar effort underway where you work.
Places are also taking a hard look at their broadband and other tech infrastructure. If you’re going to position yourself as a zoom town, you better have the broadband to meet the potential influx of demand.
Want to know if your area has strong broadband? Check out Enterprise Florida’s “Find it Florida” tool, which shows available properties with certain economic development filters, including broadband. For example, I was able to quickly locate 13 available office buildings in suburban Seminole County that have broadband. This tool can help you locate assets in your area or just see the condition of broadband overall. It may also help you figure out some new selling points that suddenly matter more than they did before.
Jennifer Quinn is an economist and Director of Economic Development for Florida Realtors
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