A corporate relocation study gives South Florida high marks in terms of affordability. Low taxes and depressed real estate prices help.
The recession hammered South Florida’s housing and labor markets more than most, leaving at least one bright side amid the damage. Companies now find the region a cheaper place to do business.
Thanks largely to cheap labor, a new survey of business costs gives South Florida a favorable ranking.
With an average weekly wage of about $870, South Florida boasts some of the country’s lowest payroll costs, according to a new study by the Boyd Company, a corporate-relocation firm in Princeton, N.J. And with real estate far more affordable than it was before the bust, executives can afford bigger homes in nicer neighborhoods than they could in past years when nothing seemed hotter than a Miami condo.
“One of the biggest benefits of having this adjustment we’ve all been through is that we are now on the radar of these companies,’’ said Ron Shuffield, of Esslinger-Wooten-Maxwell, a residential brokerage with one of the area’s leading relocation outfits. “They say we’ve wanted to look at Miami for the past 15 years, but we couldn’t afford it.’’
In 2005, at the height of the housing bubble, South Florida finished 15th on the list of the country’s most expensive housing markets, according to the National Association of Realtors. Now it’s down to 35th. In the Boyd ranking of 35 large metropolitan areas seen as potential headquarter sites, South Florida finished fifth in terms of cheap labor costs.
“Miami and South Florida are one of three or four markets most severely impacted by the recession. It has proportionally made Miami particularly attractive right now,’’ said John Boyd, the company’s founder.
South Florida finished sixth out of 35 major markets in Boyd’s latest ranking of the cheapest places to move a company, mostly thanks to its score in the heavily-weighted labor category, Boyd said..
A rough economy hasn’t brought a surge of new companies looking for affordable digs in South Florida, though local economic agencies say they’ve seen more inquiries from companies considering a move.
As a locale best known for vacations and retirement homes, South Florida has long struggled to recruit corporate headquarters.
In a 2012 study commissioned by the Beacon Council’s task force on diversifying Miami-Dade’s economy — an effort titled “One Community One Goal” — a consultant cited a lack of qualified workers, young professionals, and technology firms in explaining why South Florida does not appeal to companies looking to relocate.
It’s a problem statewide. The Fortune 500 list of the nation’s top public companies mostly follows population totals: The three states with the most headquarters on the list — California, New York, and Texas — also have the country’s largest populations. But Florida, the country’s fourth-largest state, finishes 11th on the Fortune list with only 16 companies. Three of them are headquartered in Broward or Miami-Dade: AutoNation, Ryder, and World Fuel Services.
The One Community committee recently issued its final report, which urges Miami-Dade to utilize the region’s large roster of colleges and universities to produce workers with the skills needed by employers.
“One of the first questions I always get is: Can I find the workforce I need?,’’ Frank Nero, the Beacon Council’s president, said of executives considering a move to South Florida. Miami-Dade funds most of the budget for the Beacon Council, which is charged with recruiting new companies to the county.
The Boyd study shows South Florida looks fairly competitive on paper. It ranks 12th out of 35 in terms of business taxes, 16th place in real estate costs, and 16th for air-travel costs.
Even so, South Florida faces an uphill effort to recruit corporations willing to move anywhere in the country, said Bruce Hoch, managing director of DCG Corplan in West Orange, N.J, a Boyd competitor that also specializes in corporate relocations.
Among the region’s issues, according to Hoch: hurricane disruptions, a reputation for sub-par schools, and a high cost of living. Even with the real estate crash, home prices remain far above where they are in most places in the country — and high insurance costs only add to the bill.
In a study provided by EWM of the 10 most affordable corporate locations from the Boyd list, the Miami area had the most expensive rent for a two-bedroom home: $1,123 a month. Las Vegas the closest at $1,000 a month, but rents are almost half off in Midwest cities like Indianapolis ($686 a month).
“Miami never comes up as a very cheap city,’’ Hoch said. “It usually gets priced out [in a corporate-headquarters search] and real estate is a big factor in that.”
The region’s main advantage comes from the ease of doing business with Latin America. “You pick Miami because you want to be in a great metropolitan market with lots of global reach,’’ he said. “If they want to be plugged into a Spanish-speaking global marketplace, Miami is the place to be.”
Government subsidies also play a large role in recruiting companies, with Tallahassee and each county spending millions of dollars to cover a company’s moving costs and other expenses.
Astor & Black, a clothier with a network of tailors across the country, received almost $500,000 from state and local agencies to move its 30-person headquarters from Ohio to Pembroke Pines, according to the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, the Beacon Council’s counterpart in Broward.
Richard Dent, Astor & Black’s co-CEO, said New York would be a natural fit for a company specializing in high-end fashion. But Broward County offered the combined advantage of cheaper homes and something of a vacation lifestyle.
“The notion of recruiting to Columbus versus recruiting to Florida is a bit more of a difficult sell,’’ he said.