Bitcoin and broader cryptocurrency prices have skyrocketed in 2021. Stories abound of pandemic-era crypto millionaires that have struck it rich in the sector.
The cryptocurrency narrative is a private sector one by design. Bitcoin and other crypto projects began with the intent to create an immutable digital currency that is decentralized and could not be affected by government monetary policy.
That said, in recent years — as the marketplace crested $2 trillion in value — the public sector has increasingly taken a closer look, with nascent regulations emerging in some countries, outright bans in others and even wholesale adoption in a few.
The viewpoints of national governments — which print their own fiat currency — compared to some local governments can vary tremendously. Increasingly, there are a group of cities that see cryptocurrency as an opportunity to leverage the technology, financial and economic development potential of this new industry.
Certainly, bitcoin, blockchain and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are not terms one often hears around City Hall. But increasingly, they are in cities like Miami, Tampa, New York and Jackson, Tennessee, as the mayors of these cities laid down a marker for entering the cryptocurrency realm. As an example of their intention, mayors from all four cities recently agreed to take one or more of their paychecks in bitcoin.
As many stories on city innovation do, it starts with one local official leading on the topic and laying down a challenge to his fellow mayors. In this case, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez tweeted out that he would take his next paycheck in bitcoin. Incoming New York City Mayor Eric Adams sought to one-up him, saying he would take multiple paychecks in bitcoin.
“Education is the best way to dispel the fear and misunderstanding surrounding crypto, and I believe that’s the root of what Mayor Adams and I are doing," Suarez said. "If people see us dive in headfirst, perhaps it’ll give them the confidence to dip their toes in the water."
One mayor is certainly notable, and two mayors a pattern. But with more than three mayors on board the bitcoin bandwagon, it’s clearly a trend.
Mayor Scott Conger of Jackson, Tennessee — one of the youngest mayors the city of about 70,000 people has elected — joined the friendly challenge and said he would take a paycheck in bitcoin, too. Conger and Suarez went back and forth on Twitter about this — and Conger has been innovating in the crypto space in his small city.
Not to be outdone, another Florida mayor jumped into the mix as well. Mayor Jane Castor of Tampa made the announcement that she would take a paycheck in bitcoin at a cryptocurrency conference in her city only a few days later. With Tampa recently crowned a top emerging tech city and hosting 25% of tech jobs in the state, the alignment with this emerging field squares up.
Conger noted that what Suarez is doing doesn’t need to just be a big-city phenomenon -- it can work in communities of all sizes. Seeing the interesting things happening on technology and cryptocurrency in larger cities, he thought about how that could translate in a place like Jackson — and like any good mayor, clearly had his eye toward the economic development potential for his city.
“It doesn’t have to be in just Miami or a large city,” he said. “Jackson has the opportunity to do that. I mean, we were the first city in the state of Tennessee to have gig fiber internet to the home. Why can’t we be the first to adopt newer technology as it comes along?”
Jackson has super-fast internet service, which allows it to compete broadly for companies in the tech sector. As a result, its mayor sees cryptocurrency and decentralized finance (DeFi) companies as a natural outgrowth for the community.
“The space is wide open,” Conger noted. As the retail industry shrinks and the amount of physical space existing businesses use is reduced, the mayor sees an opportunity. “As DeFi, crypto and tech companies start popping up, they are going to need a place to go.”
Driving home the advantage he sees in his smaller community, Conger added, “Why go to a city with millions of people when you can come to a city with 70,000 people?”
This focus on economic development is one shared by all four of these mayors, as well as other local leaders dipping their toe in the waters of cryptocurrency, as they think about the future of jobs in their cities. In Miami, this feels core to the mayor’s effort within the cryptocurrency space.
“Miami is built on a common theme, the people who come here are sick and tired of being left behind — or worse — being persecuted by their governments, and they come here in search of a better life and in return, they make our city better," Suarez said. "The Miami Movement is about bringing high-quality, high-paying jobs to our city — I want to prepare Miami for the future and to create the next generation of leaders right here at home."
This focus on talent attraction and talent retention is big in Miami and in so many other cities throughout the country. Whether in tech or finance — and in this case, crypto as a blend of both — Miami is seeking to grow these sectors.
“The Miami Movement is a result of a perfect storm of conditions that resulted in people flocking to Miami, but the push for a growing finance and tech sector has been decades in the making,” Suarez said. “It wasn’t as ‘spur of the moment’ as many people think it was. Attracting innovation and growth to our city is a tremendous benefit to every single Miamian.”
We can only imagine what a place like New York City may be able to do within the cryptocurrency sector due to its long-standing supremacy in finance and the increasing strength of its tech sector. Likewise, Tampa has been on the rise for many years now, and with its rising ability to attract tech talent and economic potential, we may see some interesting differentiation start to present itself as the cryptocurrency sector matures.
Which will be the first city to truly make a strong play in the metaverse or perhaps even mint a municipal NFT? With this kind of leadership happening at ground level, we will know soon enough as mayors embrace the growth of this digital industry.