The Panelists- Front row: Michael Udine, Will Fleming and John Machado. Back row: Bob Swindell, Lonnie Maier, Bob Fitts, Bob White and David Coddington
Diversity, collaboration, a sense of energy, great weather and low taxes are some of the factors fueling the growth of the technology scene in South Florida, according to a panel convened by SFBW and the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance.
Still, there are challenges, such as a need for more startup and venture funding. There’s also a misperception about the amount of tech activity in the region.
This is the second in a series of four discussions SFBW is conducting with the Alliance, which is Broward county’s public/private partnership for economic development. The first discussion was about corporate headquarters. Upcoming discussions will look at the region’s aviation/aerospace and life sciences industry clusters.
The technology discussion panelists
- David Coddington,vice president of business development for the Alliance.
- Bob Fitts,executive director of Tech Lauderdale, which is powered by the South Florida Technology Alliance.
- Will Fleming,CEO of MotionPoint, a 300-employee, international software company in Coconut Creek that provides turnkey solutions for multilingual websites.
- John Machado, vice president of development at Ultimate Software, which provides HR software.
- Lonnie Maier,vice president of enterprise sales and marketing at Crown Castle Fiber. Crown Castle International Corp. (NYSE: CCI) describes itself at the nation’s largest provider of communications infrastructure.
- Bob Swindell, president and CEO of the Alliance.
- Michael Udine,a Broward County commissioner and partner in Udine & Udine, a law firm that includes business, insurance and real estate practices.
- Bob White, a shareholder who leads the technology and emerging companies practice at the Gunster law firm.
The panel was held at the Alliance’s headquarters and moderated by SFBW Editor-in-Chief Kevin Gale. The following transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.
How is the TechGateway initiative (techgateway.org) putting South Florida on the map as a tech hub?
White: I think TechGateway has served a great purpose in terms of just letting us know what’s out there, who’s involved and how good the scene is. It’s really added a lot of positive momentum to what’s going on around here.
Fitts: One of the biggest problems we have here is talent retention. Our smart kids go off to college and maybe come back, maybe don’t. This tool shows people there are opportunities so that they don’t necessarily have to go elsewhere. It shows others that are interested in having their business here, that there is a wealth of talent here that can be drawn on. And it shows future employees that there’s labor market liquidity here. Without that, you can’t recruit talented people to come here.
Coddington: When we are recruiting companies or visiting with them—it doesn’t matter if it’s Amazon, Hewlett Packard or a smaller company—when we put this a map in front of them they feel like, “Wow, I had no idea the cluster of technology was so strong.”
Fleming: Once you got a handful of people together and started constructing a list, then everyone realized, “Oh, there’s meaningful critical mass, and the critical mass was pretty hidden below the surface.” There seemed to be a massive perception gap between the amount and quality of activity in the region and the perception.
What would be the importance of infrastructure?
Swindell: One of the first steps is building a more-efficient transportation system. The penny sales tax is identifying where there are gaps in high-quality fiber along the different transportation corridors and filling those gaps. We’re not going to be able to lay down much more asphalt, so we need better signalization, whether it’s coordinated lights, or lights that are more adaptive. Talking to the 5G [wireless network signal] providers, they say you’ve got to have that fiber as the backbone. If we are 5G-enabled, I think that will draw technology companies and really encourage technology to continue to grow and prosper here.
Maier: We’ve been doing a lot of deployments with the various municipalities in South Florida. I think we’ve added close to 1,200 new miles of fiber over the last few years for one of the wireless carriers down here.
Udine: When we talked about the penny sales tax, everyone thought rail, buses and roads, but I said the first thing that we should have was the fiber optics. You may not want to take a bus, you may not want to take a train, but everyone’s on their cell phones 24/7, and they understand the tech component of all this.
What are some of the other notable aspects of the history, legacy and growth of technology in South Florida?
Coddington: If you go back to Motorola, they had between 6,000 and 7,000 people in Plantation and Boynton Beach. Then, you look at an IBM, and it was like 12,000.
Then, what industry spins off companies faster than tech? Someone says, “I have a different idea to do that.” Then, you have Citrix. [Citrix co-founder Ed Iacobucci was a key executive with IBM.] People stay here and raise their families as the giants thin out their ranks here. EBuilder [which sold for $500 million] created 10 millionaires. Are they going to stay here? And we’ll see what happens with Ryan Cohen [founder of Chewy.com that sold for $3.35 billion]. Hopefully, he starts something after doing Chewy.