Challenge of forging South Florida partnerships still tops regional agenda
By Frank Norton
One of the biggest challenges facing South Florida's economy in 2003 and beyond is whether local leaders will partner to build a unified market or continue to knit a patchwork of competing interests.
While the private sector has long capitalized on the free movement of goods and labor across tri-county borders, there remains a reluctance among some government officials to jointly develop the kind of shared infrastructure that would leverage cross-county commerce and stimulate regional business growth, said Frank Nero, CEO of the Beacon Council, Miami-Dade County's economic development organization.
"We're missing out on potential synergy by not forming a stronger regional alliance," he said.
Before the counties can work together and market the region as one, at issue is whether Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach can agree to first ban the use of public dollars to lure companies away from each other.
Last year each county's commission endorsed but did not sign a so-called no-compete pact. Serious differences remain in the wording, particularly for Broward County, which proposed a softer measure than Miami-Dade and Palm Beach.
According to Mr. Nero, however, Broward County officials have warmed to the idea of a stronger ban in the past couple of months, perhaps after witnessing Miami-Dade's nationally impressive job growth rate in 2002, he said.
A new leader also has taken the helm of the Broward agency. Mr. Nero said a meeting late this month between development agencies from the three counties could lead to a final deal.
"It's easy. They just need to agree to stop using publicly funded incentives to induce companies to relocate," Mr. Nero said. "We ultimately think there should be no incentives at all," he said, referring to Broward municipalities that have paid handsome relocation incentives.
"Instead of duplicating our resources, our marketing and our research, we should see where our complimentary assets are and go after developing that," Mr. Nero said.
The greatest opportunities for cross-county cooperation, he and other regionalism advocates say, are in education and transportation, both of which would leverage South Florida workers in terms of knowledge and mobility.
Fortunately, advocates say, two positive developments are on the way in 2003.
First, the Tri-County Commuter Rail Authority, or Tri-Rail, will probably win state approval this spring to expand into a Regional Transit Authority. That would mean a single, regional organization would oversee all transit financing, procurement and marketing for the three counties.
South Florida's delegates, who comprise nearly 40% of the state Legislature, have expressed overwhelming support for the authority's expansion, said Joe Giulietti, executive director for Tri-Rail.
Mr. Giulietti said longer-term developments coming down the pike include the 8-mile westward expansion of Tri-Rail along Miami's Dolphin Expressway, and the redevelopment - for commuter transit - of 68 miles of Florida East Coast Railway tracks running through Miami-Dade and Broward.
Both projects would involve extensive planning and land acquisition, on which Mr. Giulietti hopes to make significant progress this year.
While national public transit ridership fell 1.9% in 2002, Tri-Rail's jumped 10.9%, according to the American Public Transportation Association.
As for education, the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce will continue to coordinate the South Florida Consortium for Higher Education, a privately funded group that aims to facilitate ties between the region's colleges and universities and develop market-based curriculums that help fill evolving business needs.
With nearly a third of the state's population, the governor's office reports that the three counties generate $130 billion of Florida's gross product, estimated at about $470 billion.