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Miami Mayor sees results in efforts to draw fintech businesses to the “Magic City”

by | Jun 9, 2021


Miami Mayor Francis Suarez’ is positioning the “Magic City” as the nation’s newest technology hub, a sun-drenched utopia for cryptocurrency, start-ups, and other financial tech (fintech) businesses.

That push yielded results last week when Miami hosted bitcoin 2021, the largest cryptocurrency conference ever, and drew between 23,000 and 50,000 attendees to the two-day event.

The conference had just gotten underway when announcements came of Blockchain.com agreeing to relocate to Miami and bring 300 jobs with an average salary of $110,000 and a $33 million investment recurring economic impact for the state.

A deal was also struck with the Israeli company eToro, a crypto trading platform, to bring 50 jobs to the area.

Also, last week, American Airlines Arena, the home to the Miami Heat, was renamed FTX Arena. FTX is a cryptocurrency exchange.

These appear to be good moves for both the city and Suarez himself.

Suarez, who is running for re-election this year, began courting fintech and technology companies in 2020. These moves certainly aid in his re-election effort. Beyond that, he has also found a new employer.

Along with the high-tech companies moving to Miami is the largest litigation and arbitration law firm in the world, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, LLP.

In an interview with Bloomberg Law, one of the partners said that Miami is obviously a market that’s really taken off, particularly in the financial and business communities.

One of the ten attorneys the firm has hired for its Miami office is Suarez.

The firm said in the article they recognize that there “are conflicts to be avoided, and that’s very important.”

They said that they received “opinions from the state’s ethics board and commission in his move to Quinn Emanuel.”

But some expressed concern. Jan Jacobowitz, of Florida-based Legal Ethics Advisor, told Bloomberg Law that such a dual role could pose challenges for Suarez and the firm.

“In this situation, although or because Quinn Emanuel’s and the mayor’s vision for Miami align, it seems like navigating conflicts of interest will be unavoidable and maybe prove to be treacherous depending upon the specific circumstances that arise,” she said.

Suarez does not just have a vision. He’s worked very hard to achieve his goals for the city.

Earlier this year, although Suarez has no vote on the city commission as mayor, he vocally advocated for a resolution which the city ultimately passed that created a cryptocurrency task force to explore accepting Bitcoin as payment for city fees. Suarez also called for allowing municipal employees to be paid in Bitcoin and for city funds to be invested in the cryptocurrency.

Tim Shields, a Kelley Kronenberg law partner in Fort Lauderdale, told Law360 that the resolution is, in some ways, more symbolic than practical because a limited number of people may actually choose to be paid in Bitcoin and because the state’s financial regulators may not allow Miami to invest in such a volatile asset.

Miami appears to be a city uniquely positioned to attract fintech.

Miami is one of the top ten largest metro areas in the US, with a combined population of over 6 million. It is ranked as the number one city in the nation for startup activity, according to the Kauffman Index. Miami is also ranked the second most connected city in the U.S. by FDI and the number three top emerging tech hub by Mashable. All this helps South Florida attract creative young techies, not to mention the mild weather, zero state personal income tax, diverse mix of cultures, assortment of state parks and beaches, vibrant nightlife, and reasonable rents.

It is also ranked as the best city for business in Latin America by América Economía. Miami is strategically positioned at the northern tip of Central and South America with convenient access via multiple international airports. This southern location, combined with a vibrant international banking community, makes it the natural choice for partnerships with companies in Latin America. Latin America is a highly coveted market for Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, with El Salvador announcing today it will recognize Bitcoin as legal tender.

The fallout from COVID cannot be understated either as a catalyst in this boom. According to Law360:

“The influx of capital and entrepreneurs accelerated during the pandemic could provide a crucial accelerant to Miami’s startup scene. Shawn Amuial, a Miami-based associate at Holland & Knight LLP who focuses on commercial real estate and blockchain, said he can see Miami developing into the sort of startup scene that’s present in Austin, Texas, or that’s incubating in Nashville, Tennessee.”

“We were missing for a long time a very strong network of tech startup entrepreneurs and the venture capitalists that invested in those startups,” Amuial told Law360. “It would have taken a long time for South Florida to catch up without COVID-19, but because of COVID-19 those entire networks from Silicon Valley and to a certain extent from New York City as well just picked up and came here.”

“Whether it’s temporary or permanent I think is to be determined, but it jump-started the ecosystem,” he added.

There are risks to putting so much emphasis on one new industry. These emerging companies are highly volatile with little regulation. It reminds some of the dot.com bubble of the late 1990s. People rushed to be at the forefront of a new technology, regardless of actual earnings or proven track record. When the bubble burst in 2001, the losses were devastating for all involved, investors, employees, and the communities in which they were located.

The “mining” of cryptocurrencies also requires an exceptional amount of energy.

The Capitolist reached out to Suarez for comment but received no reply.

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