Miami Mayor Francis Suarez Talks Bitcoin & Building A Tech Innovation Hub

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez Talks Bitcoin & Building A Tech Innovation Hub

The following is my one-on-one interview with Miami Mayor Francis Suarez. We discuss his plans to transform Miami into a tech innovation hub, how he is embracing Bitcoin and crypto, climate change, and more. Suarez has been a strong advocate for technological innovation within Miami and has recently embraced leaders and innovators within the crypto industry.

Leeor Shimron:

Mayor Suarez, it is great to meet you.

Mayor Francis Suarez:

Great to meet you too.

Let’s jump right in. You've been very public with your statements about making Miami a tech hub and transforming the city by being inviting towards talent and innovators. What specific steps and policies have you taken to encourage that?

Well, it's been a 10-year passion project. I had a J curve moment when I tweeted out, "How can I help?" And ever since then, it has been like drinking water through a fire hose. The amount of interest in our city from founders, venture capitalists, major companies that are moving has been incredible. Just today, we announced a $100 million venture capital fund with SoftBank, which will be awarded to Miami companies and companies that are moving to Miami. So, it's become more and more real every day as more and more people are moving and more and more funds are coming here.

We're trying to work on a variety of different things. We're working on making sure that our incentives are in place and that our legislation promotes crypto and blockchain and is forward-thinking. We want to make sure that we're creating as much of an equity framework from an educational perspective as we possibly can. We want it to be a holistic and comprehensive endeavor so that every citizen in our city has an opportunity to succeed and thrive in the economy that's inevitably going to happen in the future.

And so, you just made an announcement today with SoftBank that they're going to be dedicating $100 million towards startups and tech companies to relocate to the city. Can you talk a little bit more about the details around that?

Marcelo Claure, CEO of SoftBank Group International, is located in Miami, saw what I was doing, and decided he wanted to be a part of it. In order for an ecosystem to thrive, it needs talent, which we have, and we've been exporting talent for many decades, but it also needs capital. And so, this was the first sort of major investment of someone saying, "Hey, we're putting down serious money to accelerate and to scale up companies that are here in the city of Miami." There's never been an announcement like this before.

Let's talk a little bit about COVID, which in my mind is really the great accelerant. It accelerated trends already in motion, especially around technology. How do you think the pandemic and the resulting kind of remote economy has ushered in technological change and changes in the workforce? And how has that helped Miami in the process?

Well, it's definitely helped Miami. And it's sad, obviously that a tragedy of this kind is something that is helpful and catalytic in your city. But it's been a combination of things. I think the first is the fact that it created this remote work environment where people can work where they want to live and where they want to be, not necessarily where they have to be. And it created that environment. I think the second part is Miami and Florida were far less restrictive than other parts of the country. So, when you consider the weather and cost of living of other cities and places, it gets to a breaking point. There's the straw that broke the camel's back. And I think we've reached that point with other cities and people who are sixth generation, second generation, seven generation inhabitants of those cities are leaving. And I think that's the biggest indication that a city has a problem.

Current residents of the city may be worried about gentrification as more affluent people from the West and the Northeast move down here. How can you ensure that participants can benefit from the city's transformation?

Well, I think gentrification is real. It's something that every city is grappling with because there's a Renaissance in the city. It's not a Miami problem, it's a national problem. And I think we're focusing on investing in affordable housing today in the city commission. We allocated $40 million for affordable housing projects. We are leveraging our first $10 million of affordable housing projects that we did in the last couple of years. It had a 20 to one multiplier effect. So, we got $200 million with a project for $10 million, and we created 722 units of affordable housing.

So, we have been very intentional about creating housing. We're now getting into the education space and wanting to make sure that every child has broadband and the digital tools that they need to be able to be successful in this modern economy. We are also ensuring the curriculums reflect the jobs of tomorrow. That's what I think is going to create the most parity and equity in terms of opportunity for people in our community.

Now let's talk about Bitcoin and crypto. You publicly made statements that the city should consider adding Bitcoin to its treasury. How close is this to being a reality and what are the steps you need to take in order to get it there?

There are three things that I want to do with Bitcoin and crypto generally. One is I want to be able to give my employees the ability to take a percentage of their salary in Bitcoin and crypto. Two, I want our residents to have the ability to make payments of taxes and fees in crypto. And the third thing is including Bitcoin as a part of the city’s investment portfolio. The last objective is probably the hardest of the three, not because of anything other than the fact that we have rules that we have to follow in terms of our investment threshold. So, I have to do the analysis on that and it’s on my agenda.

We recently posted Satoshi's white paper on our municipal website and it went completely viral. The white paper got 2.3 million impressions, which is just amazing. Within tech, there's a subgroup of people that are pro crypto and pro blockchain. That's a very, very robust network and they're awesome. So, I mean, for me, it's been exciting to be on the front line of this innovation as a city and hoping that it continues the evolution of our city into a leader in the gig economy. And I think that's what's going to happen.

In the crypto industry, we have a concept I'm sure you're familiar with called regulatory arbitrage, in which certain geographies or jurisdictions that are more favorable towards the industry capture all the talent and mindshare. Is this the game you're playing in terms of attracting talent to Miami?

100%. We're doing that because we're looking at states like Wyoming and making sure that we have the most progressive crypto laws. We're looking at New York's regulatory environment. We want to make sure that we believe that if all things are equal, we win. So, we just want to equalize the playing field. We want to make sure that nobody has an advantage over us based on laws that are easily changeable.

Are you in conversation with Caitlin Long in Wyoming? Clearly, they've been very aggressive in terms of encouraging innovation with securities laws and providing a safe harbor to encourage companies to move there. Is that something on your purview at the moment?

Absolutely, I think they've been, to their credit, extremely proactive. Listen, if I lived in Wyoming and I say this respectfully, you've got to be creative to attract people. And I commend them. I give them kudos for being smart, thinking outside the box, being ahead of everybody. Now, it's easy for me, and I say this with all respect, to sort of come in behind them and copy essentially what they're doing. And they say imitation is the highest form of flattery, right? So, to me, it's not about pride of authorship. I just want to be in an equal playing field with everyone. And unfortunately, it is a competitive environment. But I respect what they're doing. I give them all the respect that they deserve and all the kudos for getting out there and being trailblazers.

Do you view it more as competition within the US and other cities in the US, or internationally with other countries as well?

It's global. Every city in America and in the world should be trying to grow its technology ecosystem, period. Especially if they care about their children and their grandchildren. I think one of the reasons we’re aware of tech innovation is that we were really the first tech generation. We're the first generation with a personal computer. We're the first generation with high-speed internet. I still have an AOL account by the way, my email is still AOL. So, we were the first generation with that. Our kids are growing up with these tools. My iPhone probably has more computing power than the first manned spaceship that ever got sent to the moon. Anyone who doesn't understand and embrace what's coming will be to their detriment and to the detriment of their children.

You have been very vocal on Twitter and social media. How has embracing these new technologies helped you get your message out?

People often ask me, where is Miami Sand Hill Road? And I tell them, it's Twitter. People have converged, it's been a meeting place and it's inspiring them to be able to drive so much of the conversation. And the amount of people that have come up to me and thanked me from all different walks of life has been really inspiring. It really gives me a sense of satisfaction. It makes me feel like I made the right decision, dedicating my life to public service. So, that has been a lot of fun for me.

You referenced the amazing weather in Miami and how that's a big driver of people to move here. But obviously we have issues with climate change, and I think people are worried about things like sea level rise and worsening hurricane seasons. How are you planning to deal with these issues?

Well, I think a lot of it is perceptual. For example, most people don't know that New York has suffered more hurricane damage than Miami in the last 10 years. So that's part of it. I think the other part of it is we are probably the most wind resilient city on the planet. This building was built in the 1950s. Every single building now in Miami has hurricane windows. So, we're very wind resilient.

Our next challenge is to be as water resilient as we are wind resilient. We have done something that probably no city in America has done, which is we decided to tax ourselves and create a resiliency bond for $200 million. We are going to spend that methodically in a way that will improve our infrastructure, potentially leverage it with other state and federal resources and create a Miami that's going to be here forever.

There's no city in America, potentially no city in the world that's dedicating as many resources as we are, which is why I've been asked to be the Chair of the Environment Committee for the US Conference of Mayors and why I was named to be on the Global Commission on Adaptation. I'm actually on the Global Council now serving as the Vice Chair. We've gotten a lot of prestige as a government because we've taken action. We're issuing our carbon trading plan on Earth Day this year. We're also unveiling our stormwater master plan, which will take into account sea level rise this year as well and will be the blueprint for how we build out our Miami Forever Bond.

Thank you for your time and best of luck with your mission.

Thank you so much. I appreciate it.