Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Wyoming Senator Cynthia Lummis, and former pro-skater Tony Hawk are all headed to Miami this June for Bitcoin 2021, a two-day conference that is set to become one of the largest gatherings of crypto-enthusiasts in the country.
After a year of record price gains for benchmark digital currencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum, thousands of investors, technologists, and politicians in the broader crypto-community will brush shoulders for the first time since the pandemic put a hold on large events.
But they're not just meeting anywhere. The choice to host the event in Miami is significant. The glitzy coastal city, known for its beaches and nightclubs, is positioning itself as a hub for the burgeoning crypto-economy.
Republican Mayor Francis Suarez was among the first local leaders in the country to propose allowing residents to pay taxes and fees in bitcoin as well as for municipal employees to receive a percentage of their salaries in the cryptocurrency.
City commissioners have since approved the measure, which allows the city manager to procure a vendor that would handle the bitcoin transactions. Suarez has also pushed a bill to overhaul the state's financial regulations around crypto, but it's currently stalled in the senate.
The south Florida city's appeal to outside companies isn't limited to the world of crypto. It's also made overtures to the tech community writ large. Suarez paid for billboard advertisements in San Francisco and New York City featuring an oversized Twitter post from the mayor that reads: "Thinking about moving to Miami? DM me." Following up on this, the mayor has engaged directly with entrepreneurs on social media who have expressed interest in relocating to Miami.
“It’s an exciting time, and I do think that this is the future of our world," said Suarez at the recent Ethereal Summit, a virtual conference focused on cryptocurrencies. "And if we want to be a tech city, in Miami we have to take advantage of these opportunities to differentiate ourselves and get ahead of our competition.”
Local governments seeking to become the next Silicon Valley is nothing new though. Cities have long competed for tech businesses looking for a new home. In some respects, however, becoming a crypto-hub is a unique proposition, requiring its own set of policy changes and public outreach.
Getting hip to crypto
In the greater Miami-Dade County, for example, local leaders are exploring similar measures as Miami, but not before first doing their due diligence.
The county commission passed a resolution last week to create a 13-member task force to explore the feasibility of accepting cryptocurrencies as payment for taxes, fees, and services.
"I think there is a lot of concern regarding cryptocurrency, and there is a lot of information that needs to be shared with the public to at least create a basic comfort level with the idea," Miami-Dade County Commissioner Danielle Cohen Higgins, who sponsored the resolution, told Cheddar. "Cryptocurrency is new to me, and it's certainly new to the majority of our residents."
Higgins explained that she first became familiar with crypto after the county struck a deal with FTX, a crypto investment company, to rename the Miami Heat's home stadium. "By renaming such a huge asset in the county, we're essentially embracing this industry," she said.
How exactly Miami-Dade embraces the industry is what the taskforce will explore. Higgins said she has concerns about the environmental impact of crypto-mining. She also recognizes that some are concerned with how the volatility of cryptocurrencies might impact the county if it starts accepting them as payment, though she said this stems from a "misunderstanding."
"The same way you use PayPal to check out online, you would use a payment processing service to use your cryptocurrency at checkout, so the volatility would not extend to the county," she said.
In other words, accepting bitcoin as payment doesn't necessarily mean the county will hold bitcoin in its treasury, exposing it to future fluctuations in price. It would only be transacting with it, and then exchanging it for dollars through vendors at the current dollar exchange rate.
"I think there's always going to be hesitancy whenever innovation presents itself, but in my opinion the train has already left the station," she said. "We have an opportunity to jump on and steer its direction or get run over by it."
Indeed, other municipalities are stepping up with their own measures to attract crypto-adjacent companies and entrepreneurs.
Jackson, Tennessee Mayor Scott Conger noted in a recent tweet exchange that his city was explicitly following Miami's lead in offering employees a percentage of their salary in bitcoin.
“Local government will lead the way in #Bitcoin adoption, and along with it, usher in a new industrial revolution with sustainable economies that will help close the wealth gap,” Conger said in a tweet.
Former presidential candidate and front-runner in New York City's mayoral race Andrew Yang has also tweeted that he would help make the home of Wall Street a hub for cryptocurrencies.
Miami and Miami-Dade County, for their part, have looked to Wyoming for inspiration on new financial regulations. The state has passed several laws designed to create a welcoming legal framework for blockchain technology, such as authorizing banks to serve as qualified custodians of digital assets and allowing the creation of new depository institutions to provide banking services to blockchain businesses.
"We're certainly interested in the legislation that Wyoming is passing," Higgins said.
Until more laws are passed, however, old-fashioned promotion is driving interest in Miami.
Bitcoin 2021, for instance, was initially set to take place in Los Angeles, but an online interaction with Mayor Suarez intrigued one of its lead organizers.
"I ended up dropping by the Mayor's office a few days after New Year's," said John Riggins, head of international operations for BTC Media, which is hosting the conference. "Also, I was just kind of impressed by how Florida and Miami were taking a more positive approach toward opening up. So we started to think maybe Florida was a good option."
Auston Bunsen, co-founder and CTO at QuikNode, which provides blockchain infrastructure to developers and companies, has been based in Miami for a decade.
"Miami has been sort of a congregating spot for crypto for quite a while now," he said, but added that recent efforts from the mayor signify that "Miami is a forward-looking city."
Some private businesses that have embraced crypto see this kind of state and municipal endorsement as necessary for bringing it mainstream.
"The public brings the demand, but obviously the politicians have to make some of those moves, and Francis Saurez has really championed Miami as a tech hub," said Gino LoPinto, operating partner of E11even Miami, the first nightclub in the country to accept cryptocurrency as payment.
LoPinto said accepting crypto has already brought in more than six figures, and he expects other businesses in the city to follow suit in the near future. "It's shocking," he added.
He anticipates a boom in crypto transactions once the conference comes to town.
But are the visiting bitcoiners big partiers? LoPinto offered a resounding yes.
"It's a pretty young demographic, as you can imagine. They've made a lot of money. They have a lot of money in their crypto-wallets to spend, " he added. "So we anticipate a huge week."