Coconut Grove as a tech hub in Miami

By May 25, 2009 Miami 10 Comments

A few people have been discussing the idea of turning Coconut Grove, my favorite neighborhood in Miami, into a tech hub. This is actually an interesting idea, as it would favor both techies and the grove in its effort to revitalize itself.  There are two ways this issue can be approached, one is to drive the movement of techies to LIVE in the grove (which I support), the other is to drive the movement of techies to WORK in the grove, which I also support.  Coconut Grove, or “The Grove,” offers a unique mix of characteristics that lend it to being a great tech hub.

I was told once by a friend of mine in california (who I won’t name, as I may have butchered his idea) that the keys to a successful tech community are: 1. access to cheap housing, 2. acceptance of the gay community, 3. access to universities.*  (Turns out this idea came from Richard Florida’s the rise of the creative class, also think about how this reflects on SFBay area)

Now the grove isn’t all cheap, there are some pretty pricey digs around here, and there are some affordable ones as well (west grove being the least expensive, and most mixed area), but by Miami standards, it isn’t super expensive.

The second factor, well I think this is really more about having a community that is open to alternative thinking/ways of life, which regardless of sexual orientation is a critical factor for innovation (if you stifle creativity, or are not open to different ideas, you will stifle innovation). The grove has traditionally been a much more free-spirited neighborhood than the rest of Miami (with the exception of South Beach), which lends it well to fostering creativity in its midst.  For many years the Grove was a hippie enclave, now it might not be as much, but it is an area where the residents still appreciate creativity (e.g. mango strut parade).

The last factor in his criteria, actually applies quite well as the grove is actually much like a feeder area to the University of Miami (compared to Coral Gables, which lacks the other criteria to foster tech).  Within 10 miles of the grove are at least 2, if not 3 universities, 20 miles, and you’ve got another handful of schools in the mix.

So we’ve got for the most part the trifecta we need for fostering tech in the grove, what are we missing? We need to take a two-pronged approach to this, one being to attract techies as our neighbors, the other to attract them as employers.  So we start with giving them somewhere to work.  There is nothing akin to a coworking space in the immediate area (Brikolodge, being Miami’s only coworking space is in midtown), despite having a large number of empty commercial spaces (heck several buildings are COMPLETELY empty). The first thing we need to do is convince the landlords that they are better served offering shorter leases and lower rates to fill up their empty spaces.  I know of several spaces which have been empty for almost a decade(News Cafe on Florida Ave). A DECADE !  Lets open up these spaces, foster small businesses moving into the grove and give them cheaper rents than they can get elsewhere.  Bringing in more small companies that employ largely well educated, well-paid individuals who have no problem spending their disposable income seems like a smart move for all the local businesses.

Secondly to start attracting the local renters and buyers, our local realtors need to go around and facilitate the For Rent and For Sale by Owner folks to post listings for FREE, or we build our own system that lets these homeowners/landlords expose their properties on the web.  Right now there are a thousand listings on craigslist under coconut grove (see for yourself!). Yet I would bet that many aren’t in the grove, or are just trying to use our little neighborhood for self promotion by advertising their proximity to our quaint little village.  Furthermore, lets promote the fact that we are nuts about our pups here in the grove. No other neighborhood has 2 dog parks, and is as dog friendly as we are. The grove charm is something that is being neglected. Where else can you sit out on the bay and eat conch fritters, or go to the farmers market on a saturday, or ride your bike without having to worry about congestion or pollution?

Really these points aren’t even necessarily exclusive to techies or tech companies, but they are great selling points for the area. So lets rally the troops.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ben-Bloch/699182216 Ben Bloch

    Nice post. I’d love to see the grove become a tech hub. I agree that the biggest obstacles are affordable housing and attracting tech companies and investors to the area. Although, the area itself is quite attractive. Events like FOWA and refresh Miami help increase awareness of our community. And lets not forget how much our community has grown.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ben-Bloch/699182216 Ben Bloch

    Nice post. I’d love to see the grove become a tech hub. I agree that the biggest obstacles are affordable housing and attracting tech companies and investors to the area. Although, the area itself is quite attractive. Events like FOWA and refresh Miami help increase awareness of our community. And lets not forget how much our community has grown.

  • Facebook User

    1. I get the impression local universities and their CS programs are more interested in filling up the IT departments of local corporations like Burger King and Carnival Cruise Lines than fostering small business. I wish I saw more of a presence from them at local tech events. Doesn’t anyone have a good thesis to present?

    2. I’d like to throw in a word for public transportation. Making it easy for students without easy access to cars to get from their dorm rooms or apartments to an internship in The Grove is key.

    3. The lack of cheap housing has pushed many young professionals north into Ft. Lauderdale and central Florida. It’ll be tough to reverse that with an oasis as small as The Grove. The long awaited revitalization of the midtown and design district areas would also help increase local housing stock, especially if we can turn all that extra condo development that’s sitting unused or unfinished after the real estate bust into affordable housing instead of seasonal timeshares for wealthy tourists.

    4. Talented kids attend local high schools as well. Then they go to college out of state and never come back. It’s a source of brain drain that I don’t hear mentioned very often. We need to be able to pull them back with summer internships and jobs in places other than the aforementioned corporate IT departments.

    I just don’t see the same big money venture capital coming into this area that I imagine went into Silicon Valley, New England, and the Research Triangle. We just can’t depend on angels anymore, especially in this economic climate. We should forge our own path with a combination of gov’t funding, university resources, and lots of private cooperation. More Voltron, less Ultraman.

  • Facebook User

    1. I get the impression local universities and their CS programs are more interested in filling up the IT departments of local corporations like Burger King and Carnival Cruise Lines than fostering small business. I wish I saw more of a presence from them at local tech events. Doesn’t anyone have a good thesis to present?

    2. I’d like to throw in a word for public transportation. Making it easy for students without easy access to cars to get from their dorm rooms or apartments to an internship in The Grove is key.

    3. The lack of cheap housing has pushed many young professionals north into Ft. Lauderdale and central Florida. It’ll be tough to reverse that with an oasis as small as The Grove. The long awaited revitalization of the midtown and design district areas would also help increase local housing stock, especially if we can turn all that extra condo development that’s sitting unused or unfinished after the real estate bust into affordable housing instead of seasonal timeshares for wealthy tourists.

    4. Talented kids attend local high schools as well. Then they go to college out of state and never come back. It’s a source of brain drain that I don’t hear mentioned very often. We need to be able to pull them back with summer internships and jobs in places other than the aforementioned corporate IT departments.

    I just don’t see the same big money venture capital coming into this area that I imagine went into Silicon Valley, New England, and the Research Triangle. We just can’t depend on angels anymore, especially in this economic climate. We should forge our own path with a combination of gov’t funding, university resources, and lots of private cooperation. More Voltron, less Ultraman.

  • http://infinimedia.com/ Brian Breslin

    Ed, the grove is accessible via metrorail + buses that go from the metrorail all over the grove.

    I agree 100% with you on the school issue about them both wanting to fill the cubicle farms of the big corporations and the brain drain issue (I left Miami for school too).

    I was really using the grove as an example. but Midtown/design district are even more lacking in respect to public transportation. And ft.lauderdale really isn’t much cheaper, and it has fewer corporations up there. (plus we all know its inferior to dade county :-P )

  • http://infinimedia.com Brian Breslin

    Ed, the grove is accessible via metrorail + buses that go from the metrorail all over the grove.

    I agree 100% with you on the school issue about them both wanting to fill the cubicle farms of the big corporations and the brain drain issue (I left Miami for school too).

    I was really using the grove as an example. but Midtown/design district are even more lacking in respect to public transportation. And ft.lauderdale really isn’t much cheaper, and it has fewer corporations up there. (plus we all know its inferior to dade county :-P )

  • Craigslist Proxy

    I do not post much, but this was a good read. Craigslist always has something new in stock. Some site I read had a post about a guy who was going to buy a car for his gf, and he found a car ad with stuff about Hitler in it… Very odd. That is Craigslist…

  • Craigslist Proxy

    I do not post much, but this was a good read. Craigslist always has something new in stock. Some site I read had a post about a guy who was going to buy a car for his gf, and he found a car ad with stuff about Hitler in it… Very odd. That is Craigslist…

  • Rey Bango

    After having worked in IT for 20 years the majority being in Miami, I would love to see something of a tech hub come around. A couple of things that I’ve observed:

    1) Most of South Florida tends to lag in technology by 2-3 years. This is in huge contrast to Silicon Valley where early adopters are the norm and seemingly embraced. It’s not to say that there aren’t people using cutting edge tools but in my experience, it’s been the minority

    2) The Internet development & social media communities are still disjointed. Refresh & Social Media Club, among others, are really helping in this but there is a HUGE difference in the level of collaboration & cooperation between the companies in the valley and here. I know this because I’ve been privy, due to my work w/ Mozilla, to what’s happening on the west coast. We need to trust each other more and openly share stuff as if it were ingrained in our nature.

    3) Lowering the cost of rental space could be beneficial & I really think another Briklodge-type place that is more centralized would be a big win.

    4) Companies need to stop trying to pay people in “Sun Dollars” and get in line with salaries in other places. Bottom line is that money talks & South Florida companies have been traditionally cheap. That needs to change. And telling someone to work for sweat equity ain’t gonna cut it.

    I’m going to give this some more thought but these are just some immediate things that I’ve seen over the years and that are still abundantly apparent.

  • Rey Bango

    After having worked in IT for 20 years the majority being in Miami, I would love to see something of a tech hub come around. A couple of things that I’ve observed:

    1) Most of South Florida tends to lag in technology by 2-3 years. This is in huge contrast to Silicon Valley where early adopters are the norm and seemingly embraced. It’s not to say that there aren’t people using cutting edge tools but in my experience, it’s been the minority

    2) The Internet development & social media communities are still disjointed. Refresh & Social Media Club, among others, are really helping in this but there is a HUGE difference in the level of collaboration & cooperation between the companies in the valley and here. I know this because I’ve been privy, due to my work w/ Mozilla, to what’s happening on the west coast. We need to trust each other more and openly share stuff as if it were ingrained in our nature.

    3) Lowering the cost of rental space could be beneficial & I really think another Briklodge-type place that is more centralized would be a big win.

    4) Companies need to stop trying to pay people in “Sun Dollars” and get in line with salaries in other places. Bottom line is that money talks & South Florida companies have been traditionally cheap. That needs to change. And telling someone to work for sweat equity ain’t gonna cut it.

    I’m going to give this some more thought but these are just some immediate things that I’ve seen over the years and that are still abundantly apparent.