Pandemic prompts Wall Street to look south for Florida’s life and work benefits

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ยฉ Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Miami Beach restaurants reopen amid coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

By Svea Herbst-Bayliss

BOSTON (Reuters) – A crowd of Wall Street executives, bankers and fund managers are giving up New York for Florida and embracing Sunshine State over the New York metropolitan area as the coronavirus pandemic has removed many benefits from working from a global financial hub.

Since legions of financial sector workers began working from home in March, Florida’s hot weather, low taxes, affordable space and fast, easy flights back to New York when needed have raised its status.

About 30 major financial firms are “kicking the tires” in South Florida, said Kelly Smallridge, who runs an economic development agency in Palm Beach County. A handful of them are serious about switching staff there, she said.

Companies including Elliott Management, Citadel and Moelis (NYSE ๐Ÿ™‚ & Co. are among the latest to say they will open satellite offices there or allow their money makers to be based in Florida, executives say.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc (NYSE ๐Ÿ™‚ is also looking at moving some asset management staff there, said people familiar with the matter.

In the past, Wall Street leaders rejected the idea of โ€‹โ€‹finding in Florida because of concerns about schools, culture and networking opportunities.

Much of this has been removed as telework and learning have taken over New York, while restaurants, museums and other venues remain anything but closed due to lockdown measures to prevent the virus from spreading.

It has made Florida’s casual lifestyle and business-friendly practices more attractive, bankers and investment professionals said.

Florida is part of a broader trend, with large financial firms moving staff from expensive cities like New York and San Francisco to cheaper hubs in US states like Ohio, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.

To many New Yorkers, Florida seems to be closer culturally and physically than other states. It’s in the same time zone and has more Big Apple (NASDAQ ๐Ÿ™‚ aliens than one could find in Salt Lake City or Nashville, sources said.

Open dining year-round is another plus along with the absence of state income tax. Homes and apartments generally cost less, and commercial rentals are about half the Manhattan price in places like Palm Beach County.

“I absolutely love it here and trying to get some friends to move down here,” said Kevin Couper, senior vice president at Wealthspire Advisors, which moved to South Florida six months ago. “People are able to live their lives down here.”

Couper’s views reflect what many of his colleagues on Wall Street say: If they can not be in Manhattan’s skyscraper offices and enjoy theater, concerts, and restaurants, they would rather be close to the beach.

INCREASE IN NUMBER OF PATIENTS

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has prioritized the state’s economy over strict coronavirus protection. In September, he declared Florida open for business and prevented local governments from limiting the capacity of restaurants, even though many other states restricted indoor dining.

Florida is one of 13 states without a mask mandate.

Florida’s coronavirus admissions rose 32 percent to 5,634 on Wednesday from 4,280 on December 1, according to a Reuters report. It is the fifth highest in the country behind California, Texas, New York and Pennsylvania.

DeSantis supporters claim his approach has saved jobs and helped Florida businesses.

Couper and others said they take the pandemic seriously, but that people should be allowed to make their own choices about wearing masks and eating out.

Hedge fund Elliott Management, which oversees $ 41 billion, says it plans to open a West Palm Beach office next year. Its co-CEO, Jonathan Pollock, has been working from Florida during the pandemic.

The hedge fund Citadel expects to open an office in Miami next year. Florida-based founder Ken Griffin put the state to the test as he moved some traders from Citadel Securities, his separate electronic trading company, from New York and Chicago to the Four Seasons Hotel in Palm Beach.

Blackstone Group (NYSE ๐Ÿ™‚ Inc also plans to open an office for hundreds of back-office technology staff near Miami.

Goldman Sachs wealth management arm has been looking at South Florida, sources said. The bank has no specific plans to advertise, but is looking to place more jobs in “high-value” locations across the country, a spokesman said.

German bank (DE ๐Ÿ™‚ Group AG and JPMorgan Chase & Co (NYSE ๐Ÿ™‚ have long had offices in Jacksonville, while many hedge funds have been based around Miami or Palm Beach for years.

Although Moelis has no plans to open an office in Florida, CEO Ken Moelis told Bloomberg TV he was happy to get the best dealmakers to work from there if they prefer.

“The pandemic has essentially taken five years with a slow process and accelerated it,” said Alan Johnson, who works with CFOs as head of consulting firm Johnson Associates. “Businesses realize you don’t have to be in Midtown Manhattan, and employees are okay with that.”

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