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Nurture Greater Miami’s future as a technology powerhouse | Opinion

The last decade has seen an unprecedented wave of innovation transform our communities and economy. New technologies are changing the way we shop, consume news and nurture relationships.

These advances have also changed how economic value is created. For example, it used to be that software was developed in only a handful of cities across the world — and at a high cost. Today, the cost to build software has fallen dramatically, and a wave of global startup activity has emerged in cities big and small as a result.

It’s what AOL founder Steve Case calls the Rise of the Rest. He’ll be visiting Miami on May 2 as part of a cross-country tour highlighting entrepreneurs in places beyond Silicon Valley.

This new knowledge economy promises expanded individual opportunity and economic inclusion. Local companies such as CareCloud, Nearpod, Chewy and Ultimate Software have created thousands of well-paying jobs that allow Miami’s residents to thrive right here in the 305. These companies also add much-needed diversity and resiliency to our region’s economy.

But for too many people, opportunities at these companies remain out of reach because they lack the skills these new jobs require. The challenge is acutely pressing for Miami as low-skill, low-wage service-sector jobs constitute almost half of our workforce. In fact, Miami has a larger share of service jobs than any other major metro except Las Vegas. Ultimately, service economies transfer wealth, they don’t create it.

As jobs and industries change, technology offers marginalized populations a better chance to build portable skills for resilient, higher-income careers. In a simple job search on for “software engineer in Miami, FL” you will find almost 1,500 results with a median base salary of $75,000. The median household income in Miami-Dade County is $44,937.

Together, Knight Foundation and Microsoft are taking new bets on ways to make the opportunities of the 21st century economy accessible to more of Miami’s residents and build a talent pipeline that serves our growing innovation ecosystem. We are investing in two models to empower individuals to access skills-building opportunities at both the early and later stages of their careers.

The first is Code/Art, a local nonprofit focused on using the arts to inspire girls throughout Miami-Dade County to learn to code. Our investment will help build the organization’s capacity and advance a train-the-trainer program to support art teachers across Miami-Dade County to deliver introductory computer science-based lessons in the classroom. Over the course of 2019, Code/Art will train 60 Miami-Dade County middle school art teachers to deliver four intro-to-coding lessons to their classes during the school year with the support of Florida International University School of Computer Science students. The program will reach 27,000 Miami-Dade County public school students, 80 percent of which will be from underserved communities.

The second is an expansion of the Future Tech Leaders Fellowship by Wyncode, one of the leading coding academies in Miami. The program will sponsor a cohort of 10 low-income, underrepresented Miami-Dade County residents over the year to enroll in their intensive website development bootcamp training programs free of charge. It will open the door to immediate paid internship opportunities in the tech sector and lifetime job support from Wyncode.

These programs align with the work of Girls Who Code, Code Fever and Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship that have made important strides in energizing young people to pursue careers in tech. With our new investments the hope is that we will elevate fresh models for skill-building that can open doors to greater economic opportunity.

The momentum for new ideas and entrepreneurship in Miami is undeniable. But if Miami is to evolve past its status as a service economy to one that is driven by rising opportunities in technology and innovation, it must cultivate its human capital. Players across industries and sectors should work to open avenues for people in all of Miami’s diverse communities to contribute to our city’s transformation. By investing in talent, we invest in our city’s future.

Lucas Hernández directs Microsoft’s Civic Engagement program in Miami. Raul Moas is Miami program director for Knight Foundation.

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