Raul Moas to lead new Partnership for Miami aimed at long-term prosperity: A Q&A

‘Is this a place where social mobility, where economic opportunity, is available to everyone? That’s the primary ethos that’s driving this group.’ – Raul Moas

By Nancy Dahlberg

Miami is in a moment, with “meteoric” growth since 2020, but also experiencing growing pains that exasperate the affordability and livability of Miami for everyone. That’s among the reasons for the formation of Partnership for Miami, a new coalition of business leaders that seek to find solutions for the Miami metro area’s social challenges, and maximize the opportunity for sustained growth and prosperity.

Partnership for Miami, which came together organically over the past year, is led by Raul Moas, who was most recently the Miami senior director for the Knight Foundation, which seeded many entrepreneurship and tech initiatives. The Partnership’s 23-member board contains a who’s who of Miami’s longtime successful business and civic leadersincluding the CEOs of Baptist Health, Jackson Health System, Ryder, Royal Caribbean Group, MasTec and the Miami Dolphins – and a few newer arrivals such as finance titans Ken Griffith and Orlando Bravo. The new nonprofit is funded by the board members. “All of them care deeply about this place,” says Moas, who was born and raised in Miami.

With the recent growth we experienced, naturally there are challenges, says Moas. The Miami area ranks as one of the worst in the nation for housing affordability, for both rentals and home ownership. Traffic congestion is noticeably more severe. “According to some measures, we even bumped up to number 9 in the world in terms of congestion at times. We were No. 30 a couple years ago,” he says.

Partnership for Miami is zeroing in on housing affordability, mobility and education, and has already released a comprehensive, fact-based 126-page “Miami 2035” report that shows where Miami area ranks against peer cities nationally and globally by many metrics, includes some best practices of other cities, and lays out a blueprint for the partnership’s work going forward. Download the “Miami 2035” report here. 

“Is this a place where social mobility, where economic opportunity, is available to everyone? That’s the primary ethos that’s driving this group,” says Moas. “We want to scout both our own community and other communities for the kinds of ideas and programs that lead to better outcomes when it comes to shared prosperity like housing affordability, improved transit, and improved educational outcomes. And then we want to use our leadership, our experiences, and our resources to bring those opportunities to Miami to pilot them, or to scale them if they’re already here.”

Refresh Miami sat down with Moas to learn more. Here are excerpts of our conversation.

What excites you most about leading Partnership for Miami?

I think it’s the confluence of the moment that Miami is living. You can’t buy this kind of growth. It really is born from decades of tenacious Miamians, both leaders and residents. Most of the folks that live in this city were not born in this country. This is a place that attracts people who are looking for more – that tenacity is built in – and so the moment is hard fought, hard earned. The other element is working with our incredible board. We have exceptional business and civic leaders on our board that truly represent a variety of experiences and professional industry diversity that touches on both Miami’s historically strong sectors as well as those where Miami has had a lot more growth recently, finance and tech in particular.

What in your view were a few of the more surprising findings in the report?

From an economic development perspective, I did not realize that Miami had the lowest unemployment rate in the country for metro areas over 1 million people  – 1.6% is really something remarkable. The city also has pockets of excellence when it comes to education, and that’s true for public schools and private, but as is true for most large urban school districts, progress is hard to come by. And the progress that we made in this space for many years, a lot of that needs to be made up because of learning loss during the pandemic.

Miami has so many things going for it in terms of weather, natural beauty, arts and culture, and people who hustle hard and want more. Miami is a very young place and we are building the city today. I’m just overjoyed to be working with an exceptional crew at this moment because when folks look back in 50 years, they will say this decade was pivotal for Miami because Miami made the right investments in the people and the places and the institutions that allowed for the city to have sustained growth and that allowed for Miami to evolve and grow in a way where it works for everyone.

Where does tech and innovation fit in?

Everywhere. Tech is a sector in itself now, but tech is also an enabling force across sectors from hospitality to real estate and development to health care. Florida has a tremendous business-friendly policy climate, so that’s really important. Equally important, I think, is that Miami is a welcoming place. You can literally pull up a chair and start building – this place was made by entrepreneurs.

You’re seeing the growth of institutions in a really important way, whether it’s Miami Dade College that will soon have the state’s first bachelor’s program in artificial intelligence, or FIU, where enrollment at the School of Computing continues to outpace growth in every other program that they have. You’re seeing Miamians step in and respond to that. We have a ways to go. We want to be more competitive in attracting companies and then supporting and nurturing the grassroots of startups here. When you benchmark against other markets, we could stand to basically double the number of STEM graduates. Building the STEM post-secondary education piece is important and we’ll get there.

How is the partnership going to operate going forward?

The first thing we wanted to do was establish a baseline assessment of where Miami is today. That’s what the Miami 2035 part of it aims to do. So the first part is defining attributes that make up a world class city, and then benchmarking Miami against its national and international peers along those metrics – the good, the bad and the ugly.

And then the second part of it is about our aspirations, what we believe we can build together, and that is the civic agenda with six distinct themes, with north stars, if you will. You’ll see the partnership put most of its efforts focusing on housing affordability, transit and education over the coming years. We are looking forward and have been already working with folks who have been active in these spaces for decades. We also have the benefit of learning from other communities. We’re going to take our time to really understand our community’s challenges and opportunities and then work with partners on the ground who understand the intricacies of these realities and see where we can be helpful.

I have hope because we have some exceptional civic leaders in these spaces; you have commissioners at the county level who are taking a holistic view of transit and going beyond the boundaries of their district to understand how transit around the county and the tri-county region evolves and grows. I’m optimistic because we have models of success from Miami and from other markets as to what kind of interventions are helpful to moving the needle on some of these KPIs around civic health. And I’m optimistic because of the board we brought together. These are folks who have been incredibly active in our community in their own way for some time. For example, Ana Marie Codina Barlick, our co-chair, who leads a large development company, brought in two charter schools to Downtown Doral that are consistently best in state. So we have these models of success. We have the leaders who have been doing work in different lanes, and now we’re coming together.

What will be your measurement of success?

In Transit, we deeply believe in helping realize the smart plan; that’s a shorter-term element. There is a longer-term component, which is what do we want mobility in Miami to look like in 2050 and then 50 years from now, and how can we convene and work with partners in elected office and civil society, academia and business to help develop that vision. Then across the areas of housing affordability and education, there are also shorter term opportunities to improve outcomes. And over the longer term, I think we have these deeper questions to answer like what does it look like to be a successful city that works for everyone? A lot of inspiration comes from Dave Lawrence, who has chipped away every year and has gained yardage when it comes to early childhood learning and school readiness, and after 25 years, you have an incredible corpus of work, right? Just an incredible legacy. And so I think there’s short-term wins, and when you look back after a decade, you see wow, we’ve compounded the benefits of all that.

Miami’s business community has come together at other moments, particularly moments of crisis, like after the riots in the 1980s and also post-Hurricane Andrew. So why is this the moment again?

We’ve had about 20 years of growth in this community in about four or five, and that creates an untenable strain on infrastructure from a housing affordability perspective, a transit perspective, and even an educational perspective.

That growth that we’ve seen is something we want to harness to be sustainable, and broadly experience and share in the benefits. When folks were having these conversations over the past year, what we kept going back to what was wow, everyone who was coming before us – the folks who made hard choices, sound investments – really allowed for Miami to make the most of the timing, to make the most of the opportunity that they came upon. There was a great sense of gratitude. We want to be those folks for the generations that come after. We want folks to look back and say when it was their turn – when Miami had amazing opportunities in front of it, but also some very big challenges – this group of civic leaders stepped up and brought their experience, their resources, their leadership to improve the civic interests of the community.

I think it’s a testament that this group took a year to come together, to think about what role it could play, to understand the different dynamics within our community. It’s not a flash in the pan. It’s intended to be a long-term sustained effort. None of these challenges can be solved by one entity and we look forward to working with other leaders in the business community, our officials and civic organizations to help bring some really good things to the community.

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Nancy Dahlberg