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Greater Fort Lauderdale is in the midst of a development boom.

With Virgin Trains opening up the South Florida corridor, high-profile celebrity projects underway and dozens of cranes dotting the region’s skyline, Greater Fort Lauderdale has captured the national spotlight.

The latest jobs data clearly showed the strength of the Broward County region with a 2.8% unemployment rate in April 2019. The jobless rate was 0.5 percentage points lower than the region’s year ago rate of 3.3%. Non-agricultural employment increased by 16,400 jobs (+1.9%) over the year, with an employment of 867,000 in the Ft. Lauderdale-Pompano Beach-Deerfield Beach MSA (Broward County).

The Ft. Lauderdale-Pompano Beach-Deerfield Beach Metro Division had the highest annual job growth compared to all the metro areas in the state in other services (+2,200 jobs) in April 2019.

The industries gaining in jobs over the year were: Professional and Business services (+5,400 jobs); Education and Health Services (+5,200 jobs); ; Financial Activities (+1,300 jobs); Construction (+1,200 jobs); Trade, Transportation, and Utilities (+800 jobs); Manufacturing (+600 jobs); and Leisure and Hospitality (+300 jobs). The industry that lost jobs over the year was Government (-600 jobs).  The information industry was unchanged over the year.

GlobeSt.com recently turned to Bob Swindell, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, to discuss the factors that have been driving job growth in the region and Broward County’s rapid transformation from beach town to boomtown.

GlobeSt.com: What does the launch of Brightline (now Virgin Trains) mean for Greater Fort Lauderdale and how has it impacted real estate development?

Swindell: There’s no question that Virgin Trains is a game-changer for our region. The high-speed real has unlocked Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach by connecting a combined population of more than 6 million, giving the 200+ Broward-based corporate headquarters access to a deeper talent pool than ever before.

Late last year, the Alliance conducted an analysis of the activity that has occurred along Brightline’s route since the train was announced and found that millions in corporate investment have already been made within a one-mile radius of the Fort Lauderdale station. Much more is on the way now that the Fort Lauderdale City Commission and the Broward County Commission recently voted to move forward with the development of a joint governmental campus, co-locating city and county Halls in one facility. The new government building will be located across the tracks from the train terminal on a site currently occupied by the Main Bus Terminal on Broward Boulevard.

The marquee project in the area is Traina and BH3’s FAT City (Flagler Arts and Technology) which is estimated to encompass 1.4 million square feet of mixed-use space that will foster Broward’s growing urban community of artists, technology businesses and young professionals.

This new level of mobility and the development it has spawned has been a major selling point in retaining and attracting the skilled, high-paying jobs that are propelling our economy forward.

GlobeSt.com: What other new projects are rising in the area?

Swindell: The bulk of new development in the region is taking shape in downtown Fort Lauderdale where the population has grown by 30% as new apartments and condos rise.  There’s PMG Group’s redevelopment of Las Olas Riverfront, a mixed-use project that will consist of “social living” rental communities that combine residences with coworking space as well as a public plaza featuring restaurants and nightlife. Also set for completion by end of 2019 is Skanska’s $49.3-million renovation and revitalization of Las Olas Boulevard. Once complete, Fort Lauderdale’s most popular thoroughfare will have a brand new 670-space parking lot, a beachfront park, a new canopy, public spaces and interactive water features that will enhance the pedestrian experience. Stiles Corporation’s The Main Las Olas, a 25-story office building and 27-story residential tower, will span an entire city block bordering East Las Olas Boulevard and Southeast Third Avenue.

More growth is on the way, with approximately 6.2 million square feet of multifamily, office, retail and hotel construction either under development or in the pipeline within Broward’s urban core.

GlobeSt.com: What does the exposure from globally recognized names like Richard Branson and David Beckham mean for the Broward brand?

Swindell: Richard Branson turned heads when he launched the first-ever adults-only cruise line from a Plantation-based headquarters in early 2018 and then doubled down on the region by investing heavily in Brightline, which is being rebranded to Virgin Trains. Soccer legend David Beckham put Broward back on the soccer map when he joined forces with the City of Fort Lauderdale to transform Lockhart Stadium into an 18,000 seat, state-of-art arena for his MLS team.

And let’s not forget about the wave of positive publicity generated from South Florida being shortlisted for Amazon’s HQ2. These are all indicators of Greater Fort Lauderdale’s status as a thriving business and lifestyle destination finally being recognized on the international stage.

GlobeSt.com: How are advancements in infrastructure driving new talent to Greater Fort Lauderdale and supporting job growth?

Swindell: As an economic development organization, we look at the big picture. Recent innovations and investment in infrastructure have been a major step forward in creating the type of walkable, mixed-use environments that put our region on a path for long-term growth and success.

This urbanization of Broward County is helping us attract the type of young, skilled talent that draws the attention of global brands and moves the needle where it matters most: jobs. The Greater Fort Lauderdale area added more than 14,000 jobs year-over year in 2018 and continues to be a leader in the state in terms of job creation. With Broward County projected to gain 900,00 new residents by 2030, the region isn’t slowing down anytime soon.


Source: GlobeSt.

One lesson learned from the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance‘s past two annual trips: a city’s brand matters.

About 80 members of the Fort Lauderdale business community returned from a four-day trip to Nashville, Tennessee on Wednesday. The trip was led by Broward County‘s economic development partnership, the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance. The group met with city officials and leaders in the Nashville business community to discuss common challenges and best practices impacting the two areas.

The trip follows a similar trip to Austin, Texas last year to gain a better understanding of how other cities are attracting companies and fostering economic growth.

In an interview with the Business Journal, Bob Swindell said that one key insight he learned was how Nashville’s Music City brand has helped the city attract talent and create a camaraderie among residents.

“Their brand music is a brand that everyone can relate to,” said Swindell. “They own their brand.”

The Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance had a similar takeaway on the importance of branding when the group visited Austin last year, which has worked to create a reputation as a technology hub.

“We learned to recognize Greater Fort Lauderdale’s and South Florida’s many strengths, and that perhaps we need to take a page from the Texas playbook and brag a bit more,” Swindell said. “Another lesson learned from the Nashville trip was just how much the two cities have in common.”

In addition to both being named finalists for Amazon’s second headquarters, the two cities face similar major challenges pertaining to workforce housing, homelessness and transportation.

Swindell said transportation, in particular, has been a big focus of Nashville Mayor Megan Berry, who has been communicating the need for action with the city’s business community.

“She says that today will be your best transportation day,” said Swindell, meaning that the problem is getting worse everyday and the need for action is imperative.

Other highlights of the trip included discussions on:

  • How to better align educational programs with target industries with Nashville’s Labor Educational Alignment Committee
  • Innovations in health care at Nashville’s DNA bank
  • Research collaborations and how to take that tech to market with the Vanderbilt Innovation Center
  • How to attract and develop more high-tech companies with the Nashville Technology Council

The trip was funded through several sponsors including JetBlue, the Florida Panthers, the City of Fort Lauderdale’s Executive Airport and Signature Grand.

The Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance recently released its 2017 fiscal year results, which showed that the organization assisted more than 300 companies and surpassed its original goals for job creation and retention. For the 2017 fiscal year, the economic development partnership brought in 1,978 new jobs, exceeding initial expectations by 24 percent.


Source: SFBJ

Virgin Voyages is throwing down an anchor down in Plantation, where the cruise company will open its new headquarters and create hundreds of jobs.

Click on the photo for the SFBJ slideshow ‘Inside the Virgin Voyages Headquarters in Plantation’

The joint venture, owned by Sir Richard Branson‘s London-based Virgin Group and Boston-based Bain Capital, is expected to invest $15.9 million locally as it expands in a 60,000-square-foot space at 1000 South Pine Island Road.

There are 76 people currently employed at the headquarters, and the company plans to add between 45 and 130 positions annually. By 2021, Virgin Voyages expects to have 300 employees in Plantation.

Virgin Voyages‘ first ship is expected to sail in 2020 from PortMiami with 2,700 passengers and 1,150 crew members. It will be one of the few cruise lines for adults only.

The headquarters-expansion deal was made possible through partnerships between the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance and officials with the city of Plantation, Broward County and the state of FloridaJLL Managing Director Alan Kleber and vice president Cameron Tallon represented Virgin Voyages in the lease negotiations for the headquarters.

“We are thrilled to welcome Virgin to our ecosystem of industry disruptors and look forward to its significant capital investment and the creation of 300 new high-paying jobs in Plantation,” said Bob Swindell, CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance.

Virgin Voyages will compete with South Florida-based cruise giants including Carnival Corp. & plcNorwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. and Royal Caribbean Cruises International at a time when the industry is steadily adding ships and passengers. In 2018, about 27.2 million people are expected to cruise, according to the Cruise Lines International Association Inc. (CLIA). That’s up 5 percent from 2017 and 52.8 percent from 2009.

“Virgin brands have a long history of raising the bar in every industry we enter,” said Virgin Voyages CEO Tom McAlpin. “We are proud to bring that mindset to the South Florida community and introduce new jobs and business opportunities to the area.”

McAlpin said an array of jobs, from senior positions, to IT, to customer service personnel will be placed at the headquarters. The former Disney executive said opening a call center outside of South Florida may have been cheaper for the company, but he wanted enough room for all positions. Once fully staffed, Virgin Voyages will take up two and a half floors at its headquarters building.

“It would have been easy to justify putting [a call center] in Des Moines where you have low-cost operations, but we wanted a facility where people could feel the culture and pride because they are the ones who are selling the cruises to individuals,” McAlpin said.

When the Virgin Voyages brand was announced (formerly Virgin Cruises) the company was expected to be based in Miami. McAlpin, who is a Parkland resident, said Plantation was a better pick because of its access to workers across the tri-county area. Ultimately, many more desks at the Virgin Voyages headquarters are expected to be filled as the company adds ships.

“I don’t think we’ll be a 30-ship fleet because we’re appealing to a unique customer base, but we have a lot of room for growth beyond three ships,” McAlpin said.

Beyond its initial ship sailing from Miami, Virgin Voyages has not announced where its next ships will sail from.


Source: SFBJ

Thousands of high-paying jobs came to Broward County during the last fiscal year, and the county’s economic development agency projects that the future looks bright for continued job growth.

That was the message at the recent Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance Annual Dinner held at the Signature Grand in Davie.

More than 750 people attended the event, where the economic engine reported it assisted businesses in creating 1,978 new high-value jobs, retaining 1,967 jobs and securing a total of $256 million in new capital investment during the 2016-17 fiscal year ended Sept. 30.

Like past years, the economic development agency offered insights into its gains and wins during the past fiscal year. One of the key accomplishments the Alliance touted in its annual report was the expansion of the Canadian pharmaceutical company Apotex in Miramar, which created 150 new jobs and brought in a capital investment of $184 million.

Another one of its key impact projects was announced just this week. Sixt Rent A Car, a luxury car rental service with more than 2,000 locations in over 100 countries established its North American headquarters in Fort Lauderdale. As a result of the local expansion, the company will be creating 300 new jobs and making a capital investment of $10.4 million to the county.

During the annual meeting, the Alliance welcomed Jennifer O’Flannery Anderson, vice president for advancement and community relations at Nova Southeastern University, as its 2017-18 Chair. She takes over for exiting chair Bill White, co-founder and principal of Compass Office Solutions.

One of the highlights of the annual event is the Alliance‘s Ray Ferrero, Jr. Economic Development Leadership Award, which honors those who have made extraordinary contributions to Broward County.

AutoNation Chairman and CEO Mike Jackson presented the award to this year’s honoree Nova Southeastern University President George L. Hanbury, who he lauded for expanding the university’s programs and elevating its national profile.

“We want this to be a destination not just for service and minimum wage jobs but for middle and upper class jobs,” Hanbury said, during his acceptance of the award.

The event’s keynote speaker Vincent “Vinnie” Viola, owner of the Florida Panthers and chairman emeritus of Virtu Financial, said that he believes the future of South Florida and Broward County looks bright.

“I want to dearly tell you how optimistic I am about South Florida and Greater Fort Lauderdale,” Viola said. “We [the Panthers] expect to be here for a long time.”

Over the past 11 years, the Alliance helped businesses create or retain more than 28,000 direct jobs, 62,000 indirect jobs, resulting in $2.4 billion in annual personal income and $12.3 billion in annual economic impact, it said.


Source: SFBJ

It is one of Bob Swindell’s favorite questions: Where was the first smartphone created?

“The first smartphone wasn’t born out of a garage in Cupertino,” said Swindell, who is the CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, Broward County’s economic development arm.

Silicon Valley can’t have it all.

It was actually created in IBM, BellSouth and Motorola’s Broward and Palm Beach labs in the early 1990s. The first IBM personal computer was also born in South Florida.

Broward County has not historically been associated with technological innovation, instead focusing most of its messaging on its tourism assets and bustling hospitality sector. But in recent years, Swindell has been working to change the narrative in an effort to diversify Broward County and make it the kind of destination that can continue to attract the visionaries who developed the smartphone — as well as tourists looking for a sunny beach vacation.

Since Swindell grew up in Oakland Park, the county’s job outlook has changed considerably, he said.

“When I came back from the University of Florida, a lot of my friends from high school didn’t come back,” Swindell said. “When they would get home for Christmas break or other holidays, we’d catch up and I’d ask, ‘Why aren’t you back here?’ The perception at the time was there were no opportunities here, it really is only hospitality.”

Swindell, a small business owner who was the president of industrial supply company Champion Manufacturing for 18 years, sold the company to his business partner and made it his mission to change Broward’s offerings when he became CEO at the Alliance in 2009. The Alliance is a public/private partnership focused on creating a more diverse economy in Broward and adding high skilled jobs.

In 2016 alone, the Alliance facilitated 20 company relocations and expansions, leading to 2,646 new jobs. During Swindell’s tenure, the Alliance has helped create or retain 25,000 direct jobs. The county is now home to virtual reality startup Magic Leap, e-commerce pet supply company Chewy.com and tech heavyweights Citrix and Microsoft Latin America.

In April, Fort Lauderdale ranked first (tied with Dallas) as the metropolitan region with the highest year-over-year job growth in the nation, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But Swindell still feels that Broward has fallen short when it comes to telling its story, the one of a diverse economy that once was a central part of the technological revolution. On the Alliance’s recent trip to Austin, Texas, to learn of its tech culture, Swindell realized just how much Broward fell short in communicating its message.

“One of the takeaways from the trip to Austin is Texans like to boast. They are very proud of their state and they’ll talk about anything, they’ll make 10 days of drought sound like a good thing,” Swindell said. “We don’t have that. Floridians are more reserved in that, they are not as forward in their talks about what’s good about our community and I think we need to change that.”

In an interview with the Herald, Swindell reflected on his years with the Alliance, the road ahead to grow the tech community and curb brain drain in South Florida, and, of course, telling Broward’s story.

Miami Herald: Compare Broward now from eight years ago when you took the helm. What have been your biggest accomplishments in terms of developing the business community?

Bob Swindell: When I became CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance in 2009, in the midst of the Great Recession, our goal was to help pull the region out of the economic downturn by creating, expanding, attracting and retaining high-wage jobs and capital investment across 31 independent municipalities. This was a daunting task, as the region’s unemployment rate reached more than 10.2 percent with more than 100,000 residents out of work. By leading a focused, organized effort to grow and diversify Broward’s economy, our community was not only able to fully rebound from the recession, but thrive as a mature economic engine. Today, Broward County has one of the lowest employment rates in the state at 3.8 percent and year-over-year private sector job growth of 28,900.

Eight years ago, Fort Lauderdale was a far more seasonal town with an economy that was largely driven by construction and tourism. Visitors would come and go while few thought of the city as a year-round destination. One of my main goals when I signed on with the Alliance was to lead a focused effort to expand Broward’s economy beyond tourism and strengthen and tell the story of and promote a more sustainable ‘cluster economy’ comprised of key growth industries such as technology, aviation, life sciences, marine and, of course, corporate relocations (a major initiative for us). Over the past eight years alone, the Alliance and its partners have helped create or retain more than 25,000 direct jobs which have yielded $2.1 billion in annual personal income and almost $11 billion in yearly economic impact.

In 2009, longtime Alliance champion and then-Nova Southeastern University President Ray Ferrero Jr. rounded up his peers, the top business leaders in Broward County ranging from AutoNation’s Mike Jackson to Wayne Huizenga, to Rick Case to Jordan Zimmerman and others, to form the Alliance’s CEO Council. By working directly with our greatest business minds, we were able to strategize how to best market the county as a business destination to a national audience.

The success of the CEO Council showed us that the more opportunities our business community has to collaborate, the greater our ability to move our economy forward in a purposeful unified direction.

Miami Herald: What business connections does Broward still need to develop, and what are the region’s current economic drivers?

Bob Swindell: While Broward was once known for its lure among spring breakers and beach vacationers, it is today more likely to draw business moguls and startup entrepreneurs who are attracted to the region’s warm weather, zero income tax and relative affordability compared to northeastern states. Arguably one of the most dynamic industries taking shape in the region is technology driven by local innovation.

Similar to Miami, Broward has become a breeding ground for startups and entrepreneurship. For example, the e-commerce pet supply company, Chewy.com, was recently acquired by PetSmart for a reported $3 billion. Broward is also home to Magic Leap, the virtual reality startup valued at over $4.5 billion, and JetSmarter, the fast-growing private jet company, which recently secured more than $100 million in funding. But while these standouts are capturing funding, we need to create a more robust ecosystem of venture capital to support all of the big ideas coming out of this region. As our tech cluster continues to mature and grow, the hope is that a VC infrastructure will inevitably follow suit, but the Alliance’s goal is to help make this happen sooner rather than later.

Life sciences, specifically pharma and medical devices are also major economic drivers for the region, with more than 1,500 South Florida bioscience institutions employing more than 26,000 people and generating $4 billion in revenue each year. The marine sector is also growing, yielding $8.8 billion in yearly economic impact and supporting 110,000 jobs. Aviation and aerospace is a multi-billion dollar industry that continues to see growth.

Broward is a hub for both U.S. and Latin America corporate headquarters, with more than 200 headquarters based here, including AutoNation, JM Family Enterprises, Ecolab, Ultimate Software, Citrix, Wendy’s and Microsoft’s Latin America headquarters. This area is growing, but we still have work to do to expand our international market, which is a segment that we are actively working to grow and that Miami has done well to capture. We already have a robust travel and cargo infrastructure, as well as a centralized location and diverse workforce, all of which is an appealing draw for international and multinational companies.

Miami Herald: Broward is home to several major tech companies and Miami-Dade has also been working to develop its tech community. What has made Broward so attractive to companies like Microsoft and Citrix, and what suggestions do you have for Miami to do the same?

Bob Swindell: Broward County has a long and rich history in innovation. Fort Lauderdale has become a haven for tech companies ranging from established heavyweights like Citrix and Ultimate Software to startup sweethearts such as JetSmarter and Magic Leap. With over-saturation pushing many tech firms out of larger markets, we have seen an influx of tech companies and entrepreneurs relocating to Broward.

Miami has also been doing a great job in terms of leading the charge in introducing South Florida to a national tech audience. eMerge Americas especially is a major game changer for the region. What Miami and Broward should be doing now is leveraging each other’s strengths to raise awareness for the South Florida tech scene as a whole rather than operating within silos. By making tech recruitment a regional effort, all three counties will benefit, since as they say, a rising tide lifts all ships.

Miami Herald: How is Broward working to curb the brain drain — a major issue in Miami-Dade as well?

Bob Swindell: The best way to fight brain drain is to give people a reason to stay in the first place, and a way to make their mark in our community. That is why we have focused our efforts on creating a ‘brain trust’ among the region’s students, academic institutions, young professional groups and businesses.

For example, the Marine Research Hub, which is a partnership between the region’s four major universities, is inventorying hundreds of cutting-edge research projects from reef restoration and biomedicine, to fisheries and ecosystems. Technology companies such as Ultimate Software work closely with local universities to recruit interns and young, up-and-coming tech talent. Another renowned headquarters, JM Family Enterprises Inc. consistently recruits several interns each year.

Miami Herald: What do you see as the biggest challenges to economic development facing South Florida in recent years?

Bob Swindell: Arguably our biggest successes are also what form our biggest challenges, as the more our region continues to grow, the more we need to address the growing pains that come with it. This means improving our public transit infrastructure so that people can get around without relying on their cars. People in South Florida love their cars, but building more highways and roadways is simply not a sustainable solution. The introduction of Brightline this year is a major step forward, but we need to do more to improve accessibility and mobility throughout the tri-county area.

Affordability is also a major concern, since as our region becomes more popular, cost of living will naturally continue to rise. We need to attract and retain more high-paying jobs to keep pace with this inflation. Additionally, we are constrained by the realities of our geography. Sandwiched between the Atlantic Ocean and the Everglades, undeveloped land is scarce. Through infill development and redevelopment, we are overcoming this challenge, but we have to continue to be creative in how — and where — we build.



Source: Miami Herald