The Washington Economics Group

South Florida sees gains in relocating tech workers to the region, but are they enough to fill the demand?

By David Lyons | South Florida Sun Sentinel
PUBLISHED: April 22, 2024 at 4:00 a.m. | UPDATED: April 22, 2024 at 8:52 a.m.

South Florida’s got tech talent. But are there enough professionals to go around for the startups, existing companies and public agencies to keep their customers happy?

Last week, San Francisco-based SignalFire released a survey of 18 U.S. metropolitan areas that showed New York leading the nation in attracting relocating technology workers in 2023. The Big Apple’s net gain: 3.5%. San Francisco was last, with a 3.7% net decline.

The “Miami-Fort Lauderdale” area came in fifth with a fractional net gain in a survey that tracked the movement of workers among 10 of the country’s largest technology firms by market capitalization. Amazon, Alphabet and Meta were among them, along with various large privately held companies.

Asher Bantock, head of research at SignalFire, acknowledged that more people have been migrating to Florida from New York than vice versa. But as a region that attracts large numbers of relocating tech workers? Not as much.

“There was a pronounced net movement from NYC to Miami, with 1.6 people going to Miami for every person going in the opposite directions,”  Bantock said in a statement emailed to the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “Miami is still relatively low-ranking as a destination for tech workers overall, ranking 15th among all destination metro areas for relocating tech workers in 2023. While Miami’s startup scene is hyped, it is home to few larger headcount companies that drive the bulk of job movements.’”

Becoming attractive

South Florida business development leaders assert the region has improved its ability to grow the labor force with more technology workers. Candidates either can be trained locally from the ground up or drawn from elsewhere.

Last week, 10 years after staging its first technology conference and expo, emerge Americas of Miami announced its efforts had generated more than 10,000 jobs in the field over the last decade.

“We had an independent study done of eMerge Americas by the Washington Economics Group about the last ten years,” Melissa Medina, the organization’s CEO, said in a statement. “We have generated over 10,000 jobs in our state. Not only are they incredible jobs, 81% of the jobs are high-earning, high-wage jobs.”

Last month, the organization released its annual 2023 Venture Capital Insights report, which showed investing in new companies remains highly active in South Florida and around the state. That, in turn, would translate into more demand for workers.

Among the findings from the report:

  • Florida-based companies attracted nearly $3.5 billion in investment across 673 deals.
  • South Florida startups attracted $2.41 billion in investment across 393 deals.
  • Startups in the Greater Miami-Fort Lauderdale metro area secured 69% of Florida’s venture capital funding and accounted for 59% of the total deals.
  • South Florida’s climatetech sector secured $263 million across 31 deals, the one sector to experience significant activity growth in 2023.
  • Funding for AI companies saw a substantial rise, with 56 receiving investment compared to 26 in the first half of 2023.
  • Miami ranked seventh in the nation for the number of venture capital deals.

Given the continued strong support by investors in nascent-stage companies, people in the business development sector concede there is work to do in the area of matchmaking between the labor force and employers.

Miami attorney Karina DuQuesne, partner and Technology & Innovation practice leader at Caldera Law, has borne witness to South Florida’s decade-long technology evolution.

“When you think about markets like New York and San Francisco and Boston and those larger economic hubs, we are just getting started,” DuQuesne said. She agreed it’s important to focus on drawing upper-echelon talent such as managers and other experienced professionals, not just entry level employees.

The surge of newly arrived companies from out of town is pushing the talent envelope.

“Palm Beach County is emerging as a hotspot for young professionals seeking opportunities in the tech sector, marking a significant shift from previous years,” Kelly Smallridge, president and CEO of the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County, said in a statement. “However, the surge in demand for talent has outpaced the available workforce due to a record influx of companies relocating and expanding in the area.”

She said her organization is developing a “Talent Organization” strategy by  “fostering ongoing partnerships with local universities and colleges” to nurture a steady stream of skilled individuals.

Smallridge also pointed to the “pressing issue of housing affordability,” which the Business Development Board hopes can be resolved through the state’s  “Live Local Act” and a county housing bond “to bolster the housing supply and ease the burden on aspiring professionals.”

In Broward County, Bob Swindell, president and CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, the county’s economic development arm, noted his agency last year ran a “Fort Lauderdale to the Rescue” ad campaign to attract technology employees from California, the scene of large layoffs by major companies.

“There was some worry from an ad firm that people were going to call me,” Swindell quipped. It’s not clear how many people bit on the ad.

Swindell added the Fort Lauderdale area’s status as Miami’s northern neighbor has helped with recruitment.

“Miami has done a good job with its brand and we have benefitted from that,” he said.

Still, he said, it’s important to look inwardly for hometown people.

“We’re trying to grow our own,” Swindell said, by encouraging students to start their careers in South Florida “so they don’t have to go somewhere else. That’s a big focus for us — cultivating the existing talent.”

Still, John Wensveen, executive director of the Alan B. Levan | NSU Broward Center of Innovation in Davie, said, “South Florida is not the most economic place to live,” a factor that is “constraining the hiring process.”

“That’s something we’re dealing with and probably will for quite some time,” Wensveen added. “There are more jobs available than people to fill them.”

But a gig economy filled with remote workers continues to grow, he noted. “Finding the talent is easier because more people are more accessible.”

Hiring up

Matthew Haggman, a former Knight Foundation program director who helped fuel Miami’s startup industry more than a decade ago, said today’s job opportunities are deep and wide, which breeds more confidence among job hunters. He recently became chief strategic initiatives officer of a new national nonprofit called “Right to Start,” which champions entrepreneurship as a civic priority.

“A decade ago when talking to people about coming here they might be excited about the job, but if that job did not work out, where would you go?” Haggman recalled. Now, there’s more comfort among workers willing to make a change.

Moreover, the Miami area has gone well beyond its traditional status as a “sixth borough” of New York, and is now “connected to many more places,” he said. At a recent dinner hosted by a local venture capital firm, Haggman said he looked around the table and saw visitors from Korea, Israel, Italy, Argentina and Mexico.

It’s from a diversified environment that Miami-based software maker Kaseya, better known for having its name on the Miami Heat basketball team’s downtown arena, hopes to replace 150 employees who were recently cut loose in a round of “performance-based terminations.”

Xavier Gonzalez, chief communications officer, said in an email the company is “actively backfilling all roles.”

Does the company believe the talent it needs is now present in South Florida?

“Absolutely,” he said. “We have hired nearly 1,000 employees in Miami in the last year alone and we have close to 2,000 employees here in South Florida. The talent pool here is fantastic and we look forward to bringing in the right people to take us to the next level.”

But he acknowledged the hiring game is competitive.

“There is always intense competition for top talent, no matter where you are,” Gonzalez said. “As the SignalFire report suggests, South Florida is a booming area for tech talent and we’re both hopeful and confident that many will find their path leads to Kaseya.”

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