South Florida’s ‘brain drain’ hinders an emerging tech hub

By Jeffrey Pierre / Assistant News Director

 While health services and hospitality jobs thrive in South Florida, growth in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields are sluggish. As a result, this stagnation in the STEM field forces young professionals out of the region leaving South Florida deprived of talented young entrepreneurs and innovators.

Ali Bustamante, a visiting professor for the Labor Research and Studies Center, research associate for the Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy and South Florida native, said he understood the confinements for young professionals in South Florida at an early point in his career.

“Living here all my life, knowing the region, the kind of jobs available, the industries and kind of life I could have in Miami, I knew that I would find a lot of constraints pursuing any professional aspirations that I had,” Bustamante said. “I knew if I wanted to be this professional, ultimately I had to leave Miami.”

This attitude shared by Bustamante and other young professionals explain the steady migration out of South Florida and into cities like Seattle, Denver and Austin. This loss of talented young professionals or “brain drain”  has affected the region for the past decade according to data from the Census Bureau and Brookings Institute.

The Census reports in reference to the migration trends of young adults during the start and decline of the recession, that young adults are migrating into major metro areas that are known to have a certain atmosphere — college towns, high-tech centers and known mostly to be friendly to “twenty-and-thirty somethings.”

“A school like FIU needs to master more effectively in showing students that they don’t need to go anywhere because the resources are here,” said Phanord. “Every institution has a responsibly to imprint their city.”

These regions often overshadow South Florida in areas other than sunshine, beaches and an infamous club scene. San Francisco is the classic startup and tech hub. New York, a musical and theatrical Mecca. Washington D.C. is where political savvy experts come to find a place on Capitol Hill.

 “When you look at what’s on TV, you see a lot of stars making it in L.A. or in California,” said Matias Vargas, a freshman biomedical engineer and aspiring musician. “Then there’s Miami. We’re a city that doesn’t get spoken out on by the media. No one is saying Miami is where you go to make it as a songwriter or even make it in general.”

 South Florida is especially disadvantaged — and particularly notorious for — when its talented 20- to 30-year-old graduates leave the state to work and open businesses rather than stay and build a stronger market, in most instances, in their home state.

 According to a study done by Florida’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability, only 58 percent of graduates with baccalaureate degrees stayed in the Florida workforce.

 South Florida ranks seventh in the nation when looking at college students per capita. The greater Miami metro area measures inadequately when looking at 24- to 35-year-olds with a bachelor’s degree — just 29 percent in 2012, the lowest figure among the top 50 metro areas, according to Census data.

Bruno Phanord, a graduate student studying public administration with aspirations to be a major figure in Florida’s political scene, says universities play a significant role bringing in savvy individuals into the state and also in keeping in-state talented young adults here.

“A school like FIU needs to master more effectively in showing students that they don’t need to go anywhere because the resources are here,” said Phanord. “Every institution has a responsibly to imprint their city.”

The University, however, has taken note to the problem brain drain poses and has been active in responding to the migration out of South Florida. FIU’s collaboration with the Miami Foundation’s Match305 project works to keep South Florida’s brightest minds in South Florida. Through partnerships with Miami-Dade County public schools like Miami Northwestern Senior High, FIU encourages high school students to pursue higher education and, once enrolled, pursue degrees in the STEM fields.

Last year, President Mark B. Rosenberg was honored at the CEOs for Cities National Meeting in Grand Rapids, Michigan for addressing the problem of talent retention and utilizing the resources of the University as an anchor in the community, helping South Florida surmount its ecological, cultural, social and urban challenges.

CEOs for Cities is a national nonprofit organization with an ongoing national network of cross-sector, cross-generation urban leaders focused on making cities more connected, innovative and talented while investing in the city’s distinctive assets.

[pullquote]“People want to be here, said Charania. “They like the lifestyle here and, most importantly, they want to be a part of building something.”[/pullquote]

“This project [Match305] is focused on keeping our best and brightest in Miami. We are working together to turn the tide on Miami’s ‘brain drain’ and improving civic engagement,” said Rosenberg in his 2013 address to CEO for Cities. “CEOs for Cities City Vitals report tells us we’re ranked 51 out of 51 in engaged citizens. We know there’s work to be done.”

An optimistic Bustamante, who notes a recent progressive change in the region, says South Florida biggest game-changers aren’t the young professionals who left but the leaders and innovators here looking for change.

“Who is going to make the first move?” said Bustamante, “That’s where the problem lies. Who is going to spark the change?”

Nabyl Charania, the managing director of Rokk3r Labs who also founded 30 successful tech startups in Miami, attests that South Florida has a upcoming tech hub that will bring in investors and young professionals.

“People want to be here, said Charania. “They like the lifestyle here and, most importantly, they want to be a part of building something.”

Charania, along with four other tech entrepreneurs, spoke to FIU students and local innovators about the success of their startups and the emerging market in technology and engineering happening in South Florida on Feb. 18 as part of a panel hosted by The Pino Global Entrepreneurship Center.

Through their success stories, they encourage in-state young professionals and out-of-state talent to invest in South Florida.

Barry Stamos, a San Francisco native and founder of Inbox Market Response, which he sold to Oracle for 1.5 billion dollars, left his home state to open a business specifically in South Florida.

“There’s this idea in the [Silicon] Valley that Miami is irrelevant but that’s not the case,” said Stamos. “Miami is the capital of Latin America and we need to tap into this market unique to Miami.”

Although promising, South Florida, as leaders like Charania, Bustamante and Stamos explain, currently is in a transition stage in creating a market attractive enough to keep young professionals in-house and bring in new talent and innovators.

Charania says South Florida needs one thing: investment.

“If you want to make Miami a part of your life and see it thrive, you’re going to have to invest in it,” Charania said.

1 Comment on "South Florida’s ‘brain drain’ hinders an emerging tech hub"

  1. There is no silver bullet that is going to address this situation. Southern Florida may be showing signs of improvement when comparing its current status to where it has been. It may also evidence a sign of optimism every once in a while when something happens that is encouraging. But those things happen in isolation, not as part of a truly coordinated and aggressive effort, not supported by the broader business community, and not leveraged with the appropriate follow-up. Just look at what other regions throughout the nation and the world are doing to build their tech communities and South Florida is not even in the game. Worth repeating: South Florida is at this point not even considered a legitimate player in the effort to build a tech community. The absolutely necessary first step in solving any problem is to define it accurately; what I’ve seen in South Florida is an undying propensity to accept living in a dream world, with an unrelenting willingness to grasp onto small achievements or proposals and use them as an opportunity to assert some sort of victory and redefine the situation here as something it isn’t. FIU should consider launching a course called “Get Real 101.”

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