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Florida's pitch for growth: more diversity

Welcome to Florida sign in front of palm trees
Photo: photohoo via iStock

TAMPA — Tens of thousands of new residents — about half of whom arrived from outside the U.S. — flocked to Central Florida last year, making Tampa and Orlando two of the fastest-growing cities in the country.

Why it matters: That influx of new arrivals is propelling Florida's population growth (second only to Texas), as well as changing the political make-up of the most evenly split part of the country's biggest swing state.

Driving the news: Revolution CEO Steve Case's eighth "Rise of the Rest" bus tour swung through Florida and Puerto Rico last week to bring attention to startups and investment in cities outside of traditional tech hubs. Axios tagged along.

  • "To me, the Rise of the Rest has always been about ending the cycle of money flowing to the same kinds of people in the same kinds of places for the same kinds of ideas," said Case. "For investors claiming it difficult to find diverse talent, Florida and Puerto Rico proved to be a geography filled with possibility."
  • Florida, the third-largest state, got 1.3% of U.S. venture capital funding last year, while just three states — California, New York and Massachusetts — attracted more than 75%. Less than 10% of VC funding went to women, and less than 1% to African Americans.

The big picture: The state is harnessing its increasingly diverse population to offset the long-held perception that Florida is a destination only for retirees and vacationers.

  • That's an important pitch for the state. In Tampa alone, deaths outnumbered births by almost 900 people between 2017 and 2018, per CBS Miami's analysis of recent Census Bureau data. That means the city would have shrunk without the migration of newcomers.
  • Re-branding itself as a place where under-represented groups — people of color, immigrants and women — can thrive economically is the key to changing Florida's "God's waiting room" reputation.
  • Nationwide, the rate of entrepreneurs among immigrants is substantially higher than among native-born Americans, according to the Kauffman Foundation. The share of Latino and Asian entrepreneurs has also risen substantially since 1996, while the share of white entrepreneurs declined during that period, per Kauffman.

In Orlando, two-thirds of the new residents came from outside the U.S. between 2017 and 2018. City officials estimate that 1,500 people will move to the city every week over the next decade.

  • In the area's fastest growing county — Osceola — 76% of that growth will come from the Hispanic community, per the city's 2030 projections.
  • The city also became home to tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans after the devastation of Hurricane Maria in 2017.
  • The city rallied around its LBGTQ community in the wake of the Pulse nightclub shooting three years ago. "That was a defining moment for our city," said Jennifer Foster, executive director of OneOrlando Alliance, a nonprofit.

In Miami, more than half of the population was born outside of the city, and some of the startup ecosystem's most important support organizations, venture funds and startups are led by women. The city's tagline: "An ecosystem built by immigrants, led by women."

  • Miami was a finalist for Amazon's HQ2 (Jeff Bezos went to high school there), and it is also a finalist to be an artificial intelligence hub SoftBank wants to create in the Caribbean-Latin America region, per the Miami Herald.

Between the lines: Florida is a perennial battleground state with divisions much like the rest of the country. The fastest-growing metropolitan areas tend to be more liberal and open to outsiders than the large rural areas, where the majority of voters supported Trump in 2016 and helped elect the state's Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, a Trump ally.

A large part of Florida relies on lower-wage jobs in hospitality, tourism, agriculture and construction.

  • Out of the 25 most populous U.S. metropolitan regions, Tampa, Miami and Orlando had the lowest median incomes, according to Census Bureau data.
  • Zero income tax is a big draw to the state, but knocks include rising housing prices, inadequate transportation infrastructure and climate change concerns.

Higher-wage tech jobs are on the rise, including on the Space Coast. But many of those jobs aren't coming from startups, but rather from big companies (such as SpaceX, Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin) headquartered in other states and opening up satellite operations in Florida.

The bottom line: High-growth startups are typically responsible for generating the most jobs — more so than established companies. Florida's biggest cities see diversity as the key to attracting entrepreneurs and investors to back them, spurring job growth and keeping younger workers in the state.