While basketball fans and some area businesses might be thrilled by the arrival of “King James” to South Beach, no high profile athlete nor potential championship franchise can erase the fact that South Florida remains one of the most industrially-deprived, educationally-challenged and unAmericanized regions of the country.
Hailing from Detroit, the notion of a marquis athlete or championship sports franchise helping turnaround a struggling, beleaguered city is nothing new. In recent years, the Detroit Pistons (NBA), Red Wings (NHL) and Tigers (MLB) having given local residents something to cheer about with their championship runs during times of economic misery and uncertainty.
This is not exactly the case with South Florida being a hub for foriegn and domestic tourism and a playground for famous, wealthy – albeit mostly old and foreign money. The problem is when local businesspeople and politicians, like Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado, coin Lebron’s arrival as a new “Lebronomy” in South Florida, they fail many of the 5.5 million people who live here by ignoring the root causes of the area’s economic woes such as a profound lack of industry, substandard schools and universities and un-Americanization of many local cities and communities.
Industry – With an state unemployment rate upwards of 12%, South Florida remains a service-driven economy of the highest order. Hotels, restaurants and cruise lines make up the sum total of a mostly tourist industry dominated region. Companies that actually produce a product are few (Citrix Online, Ryder System and Burger King – all based locally for example) and far between. Efforts to leverage the lack of state income tax coupled with investment and tax incentives for Fortune 1000 business must be doubled-up.
Education – The financial burden of sending children to private schools is one felt by many South Floridians. From Doral to Delray, public schools are a mess with drugs, gangs, low FCAT scores in reading, writing, science and math as well as substandard teachers. Districts such as Weston, Coral Springs, Parkland, Pembroke Pines, Davie and parts of Palm Beach county are faring much better comparatively. While South Forida is home to several decent, but comparatively (to the rest of the country) subpar Universities, it is not uncommon to find even MBA graduates with broken English and a lack of proficiency with PowerPoint. Many of the region’s best and brightest opt for higher standard schools in the Northeast, Midwest and elsewhere and don’t come back leading to a braindrain. Graduates from the University of Florida and Florida State University often gravitate to more lucrative job markets in places like Dallas, Atlanta, the Carolinas among other regions.
The unAmericanization of South Florida – While the muticultural mosaic is a part of what makes South Florida the attractive, sexy region that it is, it has its negative ramfications as well, specifically on business, professional life, education and living standards. Miami-Dade county, with the exception of a few outter areas and the posh communities by the beaches, is virtually null and void of native English speakers. In some communities like Miami Garden, Miami Lakes, Hialeah and Doral, English is not even a second language, not just at the residential level, but commercial as well. The area truly has an unAmerican look and feel to it with “Spanish-first” at restaurants, shops and even corporate businesses. In fact, many Hispanic and Carribbean immigrants who came to the area a generation ago, have opted for the suburbs of Broward and Palm Beach counties in search of better opportunities, schools and a more American experience for their familes. Assimilation, learning English, while not losing your identity has always been the key to success in America.
In conclusion, we are all elated by the arrival of a “Dream Team” to the Miami Heat. We hope that it boosts struggling downtown businesses and gives the area a much needed ‘shot in the arm’. However, we cannot let the media frenzy, outside perceptions of the area, local politicians and even some misguided businesses leaders obscure the fact that South Florida has real economic, social and assimulation problems that need to be address in order to truly solve the regions woes.