As the new head of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce’s technology committee, Ralph MacNamara remembers when being on the cutting edge in Miami wasn’t too hard.
“The very first seminar I did for the chamber was why our members needed a website,’’ said Mac-Namara, the director of client services for Kaufman Rossin and a longtime advocate for South Florida’s technology industry.
The struggles and promise of South Florida’s tech sector took on added attention at Thursday’s start of the chamber’s annual Goals Conference. Part fundraiser, part strategy session and part symposium, the two-day event is aimed at setting the agenda for the region’s largest business-advocacy group. About 1,000 attendees were registered for Thursday’s session, and chamber officials expected a larger crowd for the Friday session, which includes the “Good to Great” awards ceremony. Attendees pay about $200 a day to participate.
One of the best-attended sessions Thursday was the tech forum, and participants spent about two hours pondering how to raise Miami-Dade’s profile in the competitive sector. Though prized for well-paying jobs and strong growth, the tech sector has proven elusive for the region — despite being the hub for Latin America’s Web traffic in and out of the United States.
“It’s a big issue for our clients — they have trouble recruiting and retaining qualified tech workers,’’ said Leo Chomiak, a partner at Grant Thornton accounting consultancy in Fort Lauderdale.
Among the reasons he cited: the high cost of living in South Florida and the shortage of tech employers. Recruits for local tech firms worry that if they lose their job at that location, it would be much harder to land on their feet in South Florida with another job, Chomiak said.
At the chamber session, participants considered a long list of ideas for jump-starting a tech sector
currently represented by more than 100 associations and nonprofits. The proposals ranged from luring the global gathering of ICANN, the entity that assigns domain names online, to hosting a sailing regatta focused on the technology of yachting.
Compared to similar metropolitan areas around the country, Miami-Dade ranks near the bottom when it comes to tech firms and technology workers, according to a 2011 study by the Beacon Council, the county’s economic development agency. Still, Miami-Dade plays a large role in the tech industry of Latin America, thanks to downtown Miami’s NAP of the Americas, which links Latin American online systems with the rest of the world and houses tech infrastructure for some of the country’s largest companies.
Business leaders see Miami’s role in the center of Latin American finance as a boon to luring more tech companies to the region. The Beacon Council recently finished its One Community One Goal effort, a five-year plan for Miami-Dade’s economy that includes a series of recommendations for boosting the tech sector.
Holly Wiedman, executive vice president of the Beacon Council, urged the attendees to support a new committee endorsed by the plan that would gather leaders of tech companies from around the county to address issues facing the industry.
“We need this committee,’’ she said, “and all of you should be part of it.”