MIAMI, Fla. – In her ﬁrst inperson State of the County address, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said the county is making progress on some of the most pressing issues including affordable housing, economic development programs, transportation, climate change and her new initiative Extreme Heat Action Plan.
With hundreds of county ofﬁcials and spectators on hand at Tropical Park last week, Levine Cava, who was elected mayor in 2020, announced a new grant funding program, Miami-Dade Innovation Authority, Inc., which would assist in tackling Miami-Dade’s widespread challenges.
With $3 million in support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, $3 million from Citadel CEO Ken Grifﬁn and another $3 million from the county, the program will provide grants to companies working to solve community challenges in climate, health, housing and transit, among other issues.
Levine Cava said the Innovation Authority will work hand in hand with private sector funders to support startups, leveraging public and private dollars to maximize impact.
With its innovation model the county will dedicate seed funding while creating a path for entrepreneurs to access private funding and test their technologies at scale.
The legislation authorizing the county’s grant to the Innovation Authority will go before the Board of County Commissioners in March.
“With pilot programs and an openness to creative solutions, we are flipping the way the government does business by inviting businesses to pilot their innovations with us,” said Levine Cava.
“We’re saying to entrepreneurs everywhere that we’re open for business, and we’re inviting the private sector to join us as we unlock more streamlined, more cost-effective solutions to big public sector problems. I am grateful to the Knight Foundation and Ken Grifﬁn for this major investment in innovative problem solving right here in MiamiDade.”
Miami-Dade County Commission Chairman Oliver G. Gilbert III, sponsor of the Innovation Authority legislation, said the program further positions the community as a world-class destination for high-growth companies.
“This approach will fast-forward local solutions – while giving entrepreneurs a path to test and scale, making it faster and easier to innovate in Miami-Dade," he said at the State of the County event.
“Miami Dade is the new frontier of tech innovation and entrepreneurship,” said Alberto Ibargüen, president, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. “The Miami Dade Innovation Authority will help us embrace our future and our destiny. This is all about seizing and accelerating opportunity.”
Gilbert said he’s thrilled to support Levine Cava and the leaders of the Innovation Authority program to address the needs of the community by leveraging the power of technology.
"This work will advance innovation, entrepreneurship and economic growth in South Florida," he said.
Levine Cava delivered her two previous State of the County addresses without an audience due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
She said tackling the affordable housing crisis in MiamiDade is challenging but the county broke ground on several affordable housing construction projects last year including in Liberty City, Overtown, Brownsville, Miami Gardens and neighborhood areas in the City of Miami.
Levine Cava said more construction projects for affordable housing are currently in the works for 2023.
FIGHTING THE HEAT With Miami-Dade’s rising balmy temperatures that can reach as high as 100 degrees, Levine Cava also launched the ﬁrst-ever Extreme Action plan in December.
The plan is designed to minimize the impact of extreme heat and economic costs through education, improved personal and familial cooling options, and a combination of blue, green, and grey infrastructure to cool entire neighborhoods and communities.
The scorching heat can impact people with health problems including hypertension, increasing their risk for heat exhaustion, heat stroke and heart attack.
According to the county, extreme heat is linked to the highest number of annual deaths when humidity with temperatures reached above 90 degrees for at least two to three days.
Miami-Dade experienced 31 consecutive days in 2020 where the heat index reached or exceeded 100 degrees, causing illnesses in which an average 34 people die a year.
It also creates economic losses estimated at $10 billion annually, due in chief to lost worker productivity, while the extreme heat causes utility bills to soar.
Levine Cava delivered more than 1,000 air-conditioning units to homes of people struggling ﬁnancially to help stay cool during extreme heat days.
After the State of the County address, four African
American county commissioners who are among the 13-member board outlined their priorities for 2023 and beyond.
Gilbert, along with political novice Marleine Bastien, Keon Hardemon and Kionne McGhee, said they are prepared to tackle pressing issues in the Black community including affordable housing, transportation overhaul, anti-poverty programs, beautiﬁcation and more economic growth.
Gilbert, whose district includes Opa-locka and Miami Gardens, is championing the rapid SMART Plan designed to extend Metrorail further north to Hard Rock Stadium and County Line Road, and provide more buses along six corridors north and south in the county.
Work continues on the 11mile East-West Corridor connecting West Miami-Dade to Miami International Airport and downtown Miami on dedicated bus lanes along State Road 836, the Northeast Corridor linking Miami with Aventura on Brightline tracks, and the 20-mile bus rapid transit route on the South Corridor between Kendall and Homestead, which is set for completion in 2024.
“To be a world-class community, we have to have worldclass mass transit, and we do that by enabling people and giving them an opportunity to actually get out of their cars to get from point A to point B, C and D,” said Gilbert, former chair of the county’s transportation planning board.
Gilbert underscored that MiamiDade is at a point at which it must lock down plans to secure vital state and federal funding matches for the projects.
“It’s time to come up with a plan and stick to the plan, and that’s what we hope to do in the next two years.”
Bastien, who was elected in November to represent District 2 which covers North Miami, Hialeah, Miami, North Miami Beach and the unincorporated neighborhoods of Biscayne Gardens, Liberty City and North Central Dade, said her efforts are focused on providing more affordable housing during a national crisis.
Bastien, who has worked in social work for more than 30 years and is an executive director of a nonproﬁt that helps the county with social issues and employment, said she wants to target contributory factors like stagnant wages, helping parts of the labor force that are falling behind and giving residents on ﬁxed incomes a boost.
“They all go together,” she said.
To upskill Miami-Dade’s workforce, she plans to tap county funds to “jumpstart” new projects and elevate existing vocational programs. She said she’s eying new or expanded partnerships with Florida International University, Miami Dade College and local trade schools.
Small businesses need help too, she said, particularly when it comes to resilience.
“We need to look at various business models to make sure we improve the infrastructure of small businesses,” she said. “That was one of the challenges I saw during the pandemic. Even though there were resources coming from the federal government, a lot of the small businesses in our district did not qualify. We will be sure to look at that and ﬁnd ways to help them increase revenues.”
Hardemon, whose district includes Brownsville, Liberty City, Miami Shores and El Portal, said tackling the poverty issue is one of his priorities and that three projects are on his list of accomplishments: an initiative to revitalize the facade, road and lighting on northwest 18th Avenue, affordable housing developments and cleaning vacant and overgrown lots.
Hardemon, an attorney and former City of Miami commissioner, also awarded a total of $160,000 to small businesses and created a program to teach teenagers professional development and life skills.
“Since my time as a Miami Commissioner, I have been focused on uplifting the most vulnerable areas in our community,” he said. “My commitment has always been to invest in our local economy and enhance the quality of life for all our residents.”
McGhee, also an attorney who represents the southernmost part of Miami-Dade, including the municipalities of Homestead, Florida City and the unincorporated neighborhoods of Goulds and Perrine, said he too has affordable housing on his to-do list.
He’s also focusing on restoring the health of Biscayne Bay and the Everglades, and providing better opportunities for growth and generational wealth.
The county is “at a crossroads as it relates to affordability, opportunities for growth and generational wealth,” he said. “We believe, and I honestly hope, that legislation I will push forward will assist in addressing those issues."