Enthusiastic Reception for South Dade

“We may not be getting rail, but bringing more jobs in means fewer people need to commute.” Although this was not the exact quote from Cutler Bay Mayor Tim Meerbott, Florida City Mayor Otis Wallace, and Homestead Mayor Stephen Shelley, it is a theme of the three cities and supported by County Commissioner Daniella Levine-Cava.

More than 150 people gathered at the Seminole Theatre in Homestead Thursday, Jan 30, 2019 for “Spotlight on South Dade”, a collaboration between the South Dade Chamber of Commerce and Miami Realtors. Business and civic leaders joined a range of company owners and representatives to showcase and learn about initiatives and opportunities for growth in what is commonly referred to as Deep South Dade.

“This is a beautiful event; a larger crowd than I expected,” said Jospeh Jarrin of US Health Advisors, one of the sponsors.

Connie Brown and Lucy Guzman, sisters-in-law of another sponsor, Essential Realty, have a special personal perspective. “We’re life-long residents of Homestead and the community is important to us. We want people to see all we have to offer.”

Real estate and development were central topics and so sponsors like CenterState Bank, NU World Title Miami, DR Horton, and Worth Real Estate Company were obvious matches. Everyone needs the many goods and services carried by Costco Wholesale and for homes and businesses equipped for natural gas, Florida City Gas had technological news to share.

The noise level steadily escalated during registration until attendees filed into the theatre for a non-stop line-up of speakers. Kerry Black, South Dade Chamber of Commerce CEO introduced Paul Cauchi of MIAMI Association of REALTORS and the list of distinguished guests.

Bette Brown, Senior Vice President, Area Executive, CenterState Bank, reminded those who remember the days of Community Bank and 1st National Bank of Florida, that the acquisition hasn’t changed their core values. “We’re community and with $12 billion in assets growing to $19 billion, we just have more tools available to you.”

Meerbott, the newly elected mayor of Cutler Bay, included a dynamic video supporting the motto of, “Cutler Bay, a great place to live, work, and play.” In discussing their business-friendly procedures to reduce bureaucracy, he pointed out they have approved building up to a height of fifteen stories. They also have Economic Opportunity Zones; a federal program that provides tax benefits to investors.

Natalia Zea, Director of Community Outreach for Miami-Dade County Public Schools, took a quick poll to see approximately twenty percent of the audience were MDCPS graduates. “Schools are the heart of our communities. We are now an A District and for the second year in a row have no F-rated schools.” Among business-focused initiatives is the Dade Partner Program. Paid and unpaid internships can be established for school year and five-week summer programs where high school juniors and seniors can provide free labor to a company and begin to learn how business works. As a measure of success, many students who intern are later hired by the respective companies for summer jobs.

Wallace, being in his thirty-fifth year as mayor of Florida City said, “The good news is Florida City is set to explode with growth.” He acknowledged the same as “bad news” in the sense of managing growth, especially as it relates to road construction to improve traffic flow. Among the impressive list of projects will be three hotels, single-family and townhome residences, and the much-asked about Waffle House which will open later this month. In closing, he remarked, “People come here to have some elbow room. We don’t want to become victims of our own success.”

The Commissioner opened with saying, “The Chamber is doing a phenomenal job of bringing communities together,” and remarked she and Commissioner Dennis Moss use the phrase of, “Eight is great and Nine is fine”, when they refer to their respective constituencies. She continues to advocate for rail, and highlights accomplishments such as their Small Business Accelerator, the Mom and Pop Grants, and other measures to promote jobs and quality of life. Exciting news was of a major grant from the Economic Development Administration; part of which will fund an Economic Development Strategy. The Commissioner also introduced Jason Smith as her lead. Like the “South Dade More to Explore” initiative, emphasizing South Dade for jobs and tourism will be primary interests.

Irene White, Senior Director External Affairs for Florida Power and Light, pointed out FPL’s commitment to maintain rates at approximately thirty percent lower than the national average. The Miami-Dade Solar Energy Center on Krome Avenue is now operational as one of multiple projects scheduled through 2030 poised to make them the world’s number one producer in solar and wind. In addition to energy production, FPL is partnering with environmental groups like Florida Audubon Society to enhance ecological

factors of safety for birds and greater bee and butterfly pollination. They already accomplished a significant goal of reducing use of 40 million barrels of oil in 2001 to 1 million in 2016.

Kametra Driver, CRA Executive Director, was with Homestead Mayor Stephen Shelley to provide a slide presentation of Phases I through III for downtown revitalization. The City has invested more than $150 million, beginning with the new city hall, police station, start-up of the National Parks Trolley Tours, and of course re-opening the Seminole Theatre. No one can miss the construction of Homestead Station, the entertainment and retail complex on Krome Avenue which will include a parking garage, and the transit station for the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) option voted in by Dade-County. Retail space for the project, scheduled for completion in late 2019, is being sought. Expansion of Losner Park and building of the high-tech Cybrary will soon follow. An impressive Student Center for Miami-Dade College, Homestead Campus will be in Phase III, and options for new residences within the downtown district are under discussions. (https://www.cityofhomestead.com/265/Historic-Downtown)

A spotlight on South Dade wouldn’t be complete without an update from Charles LePradd, Miami-Dade County Agriculture Manager. While legislation such as the “Right to Farm” protects existing lands, economic

challenges facing area farmers have been the focus of recent articles and intense discussions at county, state, and federal levels. Agritourism, aquaculture such as the innovative Norwegian-based, Atlantic Sapphire Salmon Farm under construction, and marijuana/hemp are growth sectors; part of the changing face of what has been called “a patchwork of


In wrapping up the busy agenda, Cauchi and Jennifer Wollmann of MIAMI Realtors, provided statistical data about local residential and commercial properties and commercial land. Their robust website, miamirealtors.com can be accessed by real estate professionals and individual consumers.

Applause and “thumbs up” signals greeted Black’s question as to if the session had met attendees’ expectations. Ralph Geronimo, of Transworld Business Advisors, has seen many changes in his decades of South Dade living. His advice? “Come out of your comfort zone. Do what others are not willing to do and play where the money is.”

More details of the event can be obtained by contacting the South Dade Chamber of Commerce, www.southdadechamber.org; (305)247-2332.