Building On A Rich Tennis Legacy

Coco Gauff plays on her “home” court at the Delray Beach Tennis Stadium.

I saw the future of women’s tennis Saturday night and her name is Coco.

At age 15, Coco Gauff has become a global sensation. But she’s also a native of Delray Beach and seeing her on the stadium court in her hometown was something special.

In its 23 year history, the Delray Open never featured a woman’s match. So history was made when Coco took on NCAA singles champ Estela Perez-Somarriba of the University of Miami Saturday night before a packed house.

It was a spirited match. Coco won in straight sets and the crowd was loud, large and thrilled to be seeing a local prodigy.

We saw many of our neighbors and friends.  Delray came out to support their hometown hero and it was a moment of civic pride in a city sorely needing one at the moment.

I’ve been watching tennis since I was 8 or 9 years old and every year we used to go to the U.S. Open. So I’ve seen them all from Billie Jean and Chrissie to Steffi and the Williams sisters.

Coco has the chops.

She moved beautifully, has a powerful serve, a deft drop shot, is not afraid to to rush the net and has crisp and powerful ground strokes. She’s the real deal.

But what distinguishes her is her competitive spirit. You can see it, you can feel it, she’s not afraid of the spotlight. She knows she belongs.

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing her family for years and they are lovely people. Based on her interviews, Coco seems grounded, humble and gracious. She reminds me of her grandmother Yvonne Odom, who is also a local historical figure. Mrs. Odom was the first African American to attend Atlantic High School and has been a civic leader for decades.

In her post match comments, Coco praised her opponent, talked glowingly about her hometown and was self deprecating— noting she lost a first round junior match a few years back at the Delray Tennis Center. She shows abundant signs of maturity, far, far, beyond her 15 years. That’s going to be important as she progresses in her career.

While Coco is the latest great tennis story in Delray, she’s not the first.

Delray has a rich tennis history.

In addition to the Delray Open and Coco, the city once hosted the event that became the Miami Open, is home to many touring pro’s and saw prodigies such as the Williams sisters and Andy Roddick cut their teeth on local courts.

Visionary Ian Laver created the Laver’s Resort off of Linton Boulevard, a project built around tennis. We once were home to the Sunshine and Continental Cups, hosted Fed and Davis Cup ties, senior events, national junior championships and more.

Center court at the stadium has seen the likes of Chris Evert (who hosts her Pro-Celebrity Classic there every year)  Steffi Graf, Andre Agassi, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg, Guillermo Vilas, Kei Nishikori, Juan Martin Del Potro, John McEnroe, Mats Wilander, Lindsay Davenport, the Bryan Brothers, James Blake as well as locals Vince Spadea, Aaron Krickstein and Kevin Anderson who liked the town so much he bought a place here.

And the list goes on.

We should celebrate our tennis heritage. It’s special.

And it brings excitement, publicity and dollars to Delray.

The Tennis Channel is airing the tournament all week, junior events bring “heads in beds” during off peak months and the branding opportunities are endless and global. It is worth our investment and it’s worth it for us to nurture the sport too by giving some thought to how it fits into the bigger picture.

Coco is the latest and may yet end up the greatest of Delray tennis stories.

She’s part of a rich legacy. And a source of hometown pride.

To paraphrase Dr. Seuss: oh the places she will go. And oh the places tennis can take us.

A Legacy & An Ecosystem

BDB President Kelly Smallridge honors Brendan, Tom and Connor Lynch for their business leadership as Plastridge Insurance celebrates its 100th year.

Eight years ago, while serving on the board of the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County, I had the opportunity to co-chair a brand new task force focused on entrepreneurship in our community.

While the BDB is well-known and highly respected for its economic development efforts and its ability to recruit, retain and help businesses expand we felt there was a gap when it came to helping and celebrating local entrepreneurs. So we created a task force and held a successful event that filled the vast ballroom at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach. We clearly had tapped into something.

The task force continued on and eventually my good friend Connor Lynch, the talented and super smart CEO of Plastridge Insurance became chair. I’m proud to report that Connor, the task force and the BDB have taken the effort to a whole new level.

The recent “Entrepreneurship Luncheon” presented by JP Morgan Chase & Co., attracted a large crowd, included a hallway full of booths featuring new companies and was graphic evidence that something special is happening here. And that’s a good thing.

The entrepreneurs are here. They see Palm Beach County as fertile ground to grow their companies and they are impressed with the talent that is available in the local job market.

For sure, we aren’t Silicon Valley, Boston, New York or Austin. But we don’t have to be. We can grow something special here. Something unique. Something sustainable.

Groups like Palm Beach Tech, 1909 and yes the BDB are playing a critical role as are our universities and the FAU Research Park.

The luncheon’s two keynote speakers were two young entrepreneurs who are proving that companies can start here, grow here and thrive here using local talent and attracting talent from other markets.

Ryan Gay, CEO of Levatas, an AI solutions firm and Shay Berman, founder and president of Digital Resource were beyond impressive to listen to—they were downright inspiring.

Mr. Gay started out in 2006 with a small team: a visionary, an operator (himself) and someone with a big brain. They paid their first employee with Taco Bell meals—he was joking (I think). But from those humble beginnings, Levatas now has 80 employees and does digital work for clients such as IBM, Intel, Dell, Office Depot and Nasdaq.

Mr. Berman came from the cold of Michigan to West Palm Beach and started a company on a couch that has twice made the Inc. 500 list as one of America’s fastest growing companies. He has stayed true to his adopted hometown, growing his company while remaining in downtown West Palm.

He started the company with $5,000 and a dream. Today, at age 27, he is growing by leaps and bounds.

At the luncheon, my friend Connor, his brother Brendan (another super smart businessman) and their dad Tom, a former Delray mayor (among the very best in my opinion) were recognized for Plastridge’s 100th anniversary—an astounding achievement in today’s complex and fast changing world.

All three Lynch’s are devoted to Palm Beach County making significant marks in business, entrepreneurship, government, education, philanthropy and economic development. They are writing an amazing legacy. I’ve been fortunate to watch them and occasionally work alongside them.

Brendan and I serve on the board of a company we’ve both invested in and 30 years since meeting Tom, I still find myself seeking out his advice and counsel. Connor and I have served on several non-profit boards together and he’s always brought good ideas and insight to the table.

Kelly Smallridge, President and CEO of the BDB, noted that she if ever wrote a book about the history of economic development in Palm Beach County Tom Lynch would be at the top of the list of contributors.

It was heartening to me to hear that, because I believe that Kelly is right and that Tom is immensely responsible for so much of the good we see in Delray and also in Boca where he was also very active as a past chamber chair and School Board chair.

To see his sons run with that legacy of civic achievement makes my heart sing with gratitude.

In order to build a better community one that will support entrepreneurs and everyone else frankly—we need civic leaders. We need champions and long term thinkers who focus on the horizon and then do their best to make things happen.

It’s called leaving a legacy.

The job is never done. Success is never final. We will never arrive at the destination but we still need to commit ourselves to the journey.

Check out www.bdb.org and make sure you get tickets to next year’s entrepreneurial event. Better yet, let’s commit to helping grow entrepreneurs—whether it’s trying out a new product, spreading the word, becoming an angel or seed investor, starting your own company or encouraging someone who has done so we all have a meaningful role to play.

 

The Magic Of BRIC

Boca Economic Development Director Jessica Del Vecchio, Body Details CEO Claudio Sorrentino and Celsius CEO John Fieldly talk business at the Boca Raton Innovation Campus.

 

It had been many years since I had visited the old IBM campus in Boca Raton.

I had forgotten how big it was and what a large role it had played in the economic life of Southern Palm Beach County.

At its height, more than 10,000 IBMers worked on the picturesque campus and down Congress Avenue in Delray in the Arbors buildings.
It was a remarkable era.

Those memories came flooding back when I attended an event last week at the site which is now known as BRIC for Boca Raton Innovation Campus.
Crocker Partners has poured millions of dollars into the campus and it looks magnificent.
The effort has been hugely successful attracting a slew of companies to the campus including Modernizing Medicine and Vitacost which is now owned by Kroger.
It’s impressive.

I was at BRIC to root for my friend John Fieldly, the CEO of Celsius, a company that my company is heavily invested in. John was on a panel of health care entrepreneurs which included the chief Medical Officer of MDVIP, the chief marketing officer of Vitacost and the CEO of Body Details, a high growth laser hair and skin rejuvenation company.

The panel discussion was moderated by Boca Economic Development Director Jessica Del Vecchio and she led a fascinating discussion on workplace culture, marketing, growth and where the health space is going.

Jessica is a rock star, truly a next level economic developer. Boca is very lucky to have her. Her small office gets big results. She knows how to sell Boca.

At the networking breakfast before the panel, I had a chance to catch up with another friend Pete Martinez, the former IBM site executive, who is now involved in several promising artificial intelligence companies.
Pete reminded me of the site’s legacy. Boca is where the PC was invented but it’s also the birthplace of tech that launched robotics, data analytics, AI and so much more. Boca IP can be found in cellphones, ATM’s and so many more pieces of our daily lives. It’s quite a legacy and it was cool to hear Pete’s pride in the legacy of the location.

It’s also cool to see BRIC and Crocker Partners extend that legacy.

Boca is remarkable when you think about it.
Sure you hear the knocks, but the city aspires, there’s a lot of business happening there, a lot of technology, education, finance and cutting edge medicine too.
The Boca Raton Innovation Campus and its event series is a welcome and needed addition to our local economy.
I can’t wait to go back. And I urge you to visit if you have a chance.

Culture & Vision

Vision and culture move the needle…

 

If you boil it down, Mayors and City Commissioners are responsible for two big things and a lot of little things.
This blog will focus on the two big things.
They are:
Vision and culture.

Those words deserve to be bold because it all flows from those two words.
Everything else—budgets, development, bidding, contracts— suffers if you don’t have a vision and you don’t have a positive culture.

A community’s vision should drive its budget. After all, how do you know where to make investments if you don’t have a vision for your city?

How do you shape development if you don’t know where you want to take your city?

I happen to believe that the best visions are citizen driven, created by a large cross section of stakeholders and implemented by elected officials and city staff.
But it’s the elected officials responsibility to see to it that there is a vision and that the vision is being followed. In other words, elected officials are stewards of their community’s dreams and aspirations.

Frankly, I don’t know how you lead without a vision.

Goals and visions drive everything—where you spend money, what projects you approve, where you allocate time and resources. Having a compelling vision is the best economic development tool imaginable. If you’re serious about making it happen the private investment you need to transform your community will come. Yes it will. You just have to believe and relentlessly focus and implement a compelling vision. (Execution is a key; visions left to gather dust on a shelf are to be avoided at all costs).

As for culture, in this case I don’t mean arts and music (which are also important) I’m referring to the atmosphere in your city.

Culture is the air that we breathe—is it positive, enthusiastic, hopeful, crackling with energy and enthusiasm? Or is it negative, nasty, toxic, untrusting and treacherous?

Is the mood in your city exciting or is it negative or milquetoast? Because while milquetoast may be better than nasty it’s still not good and it’s not going to move the needle in your community.

So when we look at our local leaders, or our state and national leaders for that matter, we ought not settle. We should not compromise. It’s too damn important.

Enlightened leaders change places.

They create opportunities, they change neighborhoods for the better, fix problems, heal rifts, seize the day and meet challenges. We need them.

But we play a role too.
We need to set a high bar.

We need to participate.

We need to vote, state our opinions, talk to our neighbors and help to shape the vision. We also need to hold elected leaders accountable.
We need to insist that they work toward creating and standing for a good culture and a kind community. Nothing else works.

It’s The Software That Matters Most

Seth says: hardware is sexy, but it’s the software that matters.

Seth Godin has a saying…hardware is sexy, but it’s software that matters.

Seth is a best-selling author and considered one of the top marketing minds in the world.

So while he might have been referring to products when he talked about the importance of software…I think you can also apply the sentiment to cities and community building.

Hardware can refer to buildings and software can be a stand in for the soft stuff like creating a sense of place and nurturing a feeling of community.

Last week, I had a chance to share a few things about public leadership that I have learned over 30 years with a talented group of young professionals enrolled in the Urban Land Institute’s Public Leadership Institute. ULI is a global organization dedicated to the responsible use of land. I had a chance to meet with 40 or so up and comers at Port Everglades to discuss the challenges and opportunities available in cities today and tomorrow. I tried to instill in these young leaders that they have a responsibility as stewards to leave their communities better off than they found them. There is a lot of work for them and all of us to do.

I think cities rise or fall as a direct result of leadership. I think it’s the software of cities that matter more than anything else.

Don’t misunderstand me, leadership has a lot to do with getting the hardware right…we need the buildings and the projects. We need the investment, the tax base and the jobs.

But the best places get the software right…they have a certain feel about them. You can sense the momentum, you want to be involved…they make you want to stay and leave a positive mark.

Leadership is so important, but we really don’t pay a whole lot of attention to it. Oh, we say we value leadership and we want it and that it’s important. But we really don’t spend a lot of time creating, nurturing, supporting and training leaders. There are exceptions: ULI is investing in the next generation of leaders and so is Leadership Florida. There are others, but we need even more.

As a result of the leadership deficit– in cities— we leave a lot to chance. Whoever, shows up gets to run the place. And unless you get lucky and a group of visionaries show up you run the risk of placing your present and your future in the hands of those who might not be good at the software or the hardware. That’s a real problem.

Because cities thrive if leaders show up and commit to a place. And they fail if the wrong people grab the reigns. It’s just that simple and there are examples all over South Florida on both sides of that ledger.

Now I am not talking solely about mayors and commissioners—although surely the occupants of those seats are important to achieving any kind of sustained progress.

But I do not believe in waiting for a savior to show up….that may feel good for a little while, but eventually your visionary mayor moves on or terms out. You have to develop the software to create an enduring  culture of leadership in order for success to take root and to last.

So when I say leadership I am thinking broadly…we all have a role to play. The public sector—elected officials and staff, the business community, non-profits, academia, the clergy and the neighborhoods all need to show up and where possible work together on a common vision.

So how do we do that….How do we work together on a common vision?

First I’ll tell you what you don’t do…don’t get stuck and don’t allow your community to get caught in a winner take all contest.

We fixate today on what we disagree on….we see it in Washington and in Tallahassee, but we also see it on the grass roots community level.

We’ve created a giant zero sum game, where I have to lose if  you are to win….that’s not a formula for success or progress. It is a recipe for gridlock and progress that quickly gets reversed when the “other side” seizes power.

I think leadership focuses on what we can agree on.

There is so much noise and so much negativity in the world today…I believe that people are hungry for something to believe in..

We need to build communities that aspire. And as leaders it’s our responsibility to create a culture in our communities that enables aspiration.

We want to build places where people are excited about their present and thrilled about their future potential. We need to champion projects and initiatives that further these goals…and deliver for not only the direct beneficiaries but the broader community as well.

The best economic development is momentum and software that drives progress. Get that part right and it enables you to overcome inertia or any challenge that is thrown your way—be it hurricanes or crime or drugs or nasty characters who get up at meetings and throw bricks. It even inoculates you against the trolls on social media, many of whom sit back in judgment but few who actually roll up their sleeves and try themselves.

Nothing great can be accomplished without enthusiasm, calculated risk and a large dose of inspiration.

Leaders either fill the reservoir with hope or drain it with negativity.

There’s another saying that I just love and it’s this: “There is a difference between leadership and ambition. Leaders have the courage to be unpopular with those that disagree with them. The ambitious want to befriend as many people as possible.”
We need more leadership and less ambition.

 But we also need more aspiration and more emotional intelligence. Hardware is important. Hardware is indeed sexy. But software is heart. Software is love. Software is empathy and it’s gratitude.

Software is what matters.

 

 

 

 

Sometimes Life’s A Whirlwind

Do you ever feel caught in a vortex over a whirlwind?

Did you ever have one of those weeks?

You know the type, just a whirlwind of activity, commitments, travel, deadlines and pressure mixed with a few surprises that make you scratch your head and say “why does this have to happen this week of all weeks, I’m so busy!”

 

Mix in the holidays with its mix of fun and stress and you have a recipe for exhaustion.

I know you can relate. We’ve all been there.

So I wanted to post about this amazing breakfast I attended last week at the gorgeous and historic Colony Hotel in Palm Beach. The breakfast was sponsored by the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County, an organization that I admire and one that I’ve been on the board of a few times over the years. The BDB—as it is widely known—is Palm Beach County’s economic development organization responsible for recruiting, retaining and growing business in our beautiful community.

Their “Upper Level Breakfast” attracts about 150 CEOS and senior level business leaders so the audience is time pressed, smart and the kind of people who make things happen. At this particular breakfast, they welcomed Palm Beach County’s newest relocation, Mueller Industries, a $2.3 billion a year company with 4,500 employees that does business all over the globe. Pretty cool. And I got to sit at the same table with their top local exec which was also pretty cool.

The focus of the breakfast program were three significant—I would argue potentially transformational real estate projects—two of which happen to be under way in Delray Beach with the third in Boynton Beach. Those projects are iPic, Town Square in Boynton Beach and the redevelopment of the former Office Depot site on Congress Avenue. Since my company is involved in the Office Depot project I was asked to speak.

Now, I’d like to tell you more about those other projects and I will. In another blog post, hopefully this week.

But truth be told, last week was such a blur that I couldn’t tell you much. It was my goal to simply get through it—and I did. But my recall of the details is less than stellar.

So here’s how it played out.

We had a major hearing on the Office Depot project on Tuesday and a lot of pressure because of timing etc. So we have been consumed with a slew of details and questions.

Now I know there are people who can’t stand developers and this is not a call for sympathy, but trust me when I say that the field is not for the faint of heart or those who can’t handle endless curveballs and hundreds and hundreds of details that if missed can sink the project and take a huge bite out of your check book.

Since I am not a developer but work for a company that invests in real estate (and many, many other things) a lot of this is new to me and it’s like drinking from a fire hose of complexity on issues ranging from the law and sewage (not the same thing despite rumors to the contrary) to design and engineering.

I thought I knew a lot—and I do—for a layman. But there is no substitute for sticks and bricks experience and so I’ve surrounded myself with people who have been there, done that and know enough not to make the same mistakes— although there is always the chance to make new ones.

But I digress.

We got through the hearing with a nice vote of support from our City Commission and an ongoing pledge to work with the community. But it was late at night and I found it hard to sleep.

The next day I was up at 4 a.m. to catch a flight to Asheville, where we have invested in a really cool start-up. We wanted to meet the team, assess progress and talk about future needs. It was a great day, but also a long one since I had to fly back the same day in order to get up early again and drive to Palm Beach for the breakfast.

I was honored to speak because I respect the BDB and it was a good opportunity to access a slew of top business leaders and put our site on their radar. You never know when the next Mueller Industries may want to come to our beautiful city and we have a very special site.

But even after more than 20 years of public speaking I still get nervous before each and every speech I give. You’d think I’d be able to draw on experience or draw inspiration from past talks that went OK but I still sweat it… every… single…time.

Adding to my stress for this particular speech was my lack of sleep, my lack of preparation (because I’ve been running around) and my inability to connect with Tim Tracy, my BDB contact who was the keeper of the format, timing etc. Tim tried. I tried. We just couldn’t get each other on the phone. Ugh.

When Tim learned I was in Asheville the day before, he freaked out a little and was sending texts early on the morning of the breakfast to make sure I got back to Palm Beach County.

Of course I did and I made sure to be at the breakfast at 7 a.m. 30 minutes before the start so I could exhale and work on my prepared remarks which I inexplicably discarded when I got up to speak.

I’m not sure what I said…but it seemed to go OK. There was applause (a few laughs, I hope it was laughing with me not at me) and I met a lot of nice people after the program who expressed interest in our project. The other guys did great too….I just wish I could remember what they said. I was just relieved it was over.

I treated myself to a leisurely ride back to the office along A1A. I caught up on calls and soaked up the coastal scenery.

The rest of the day was a blur of meetings and emails and day dreams of my couch and hanging with my dogs—Randy and Teddy. But I was reminded by my wife that we had a party to go to that night at the Delray Hideaway, a neat little bar on East Atlantic.

Ugh…

Now, I like parties and I like people. And I really like the host of the party the amazing Delray Beach Community Land Trust and the incredible people who make that organization so cool.

But for one night only, I liked my couch more.

When my wife got a screw in her tire and texted me from XpertTech I replied that I was sorry and I guess we couldn’t go to the party. “Nice try” was the response from a woman who is always supportive, tolerant and sympathetic to my emotions. We were going.

And so we went and had a great time.

I’d like to tell you more about the Land Trust and someday I will. Just as  soon as I recover.

 

 

It’s Better (Or Is It The Same) In The Bahamas

Bay Street

 

A few years back, a small contingent of civic leaders from Palm Beach County were invited to Nassau, Bahamas to advise the government on how to revitalize their main drag, Bay Street.

The trip was organized by the U.S. Embassy which was manned back then by Ambassador Ned Siegel, a Boca resident who was appointed to his post by President George W. Bush.

I was invited along with former Mayor Tom Lynch, Boca Chamber President Troy McCllellan and Kelly Smallridge, the President and CEO of the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County.

The trip was truly a first class adventure and Ambassador Siegel introduced us to top government ministers and prominent business leaders. We later invited many of those people to Palm Beach County where they toured West Palm Beach, Boca Raton and Delray Beach so we could show them how theory met practice when it comes to revitalizing downtowns.

I was reminded of that trip last week when I walked Bay Street with my wife as part of a cruise to The Bahamas.

Nassau is picturesque and enjoys wonderful weather. There are some great old buildings enhanced by vibrant colors and a scale that is reminiscent of Delray.

In fact, there are a lot of historical ties between Delray and The Bahamas. Some of the earliest settlers in our town were from The Bahamas. I was especially intrigued by the Pompey Museum of Slavery.

C. Spencer Pompey and his wife H. Ruth Pompey are dear old friends and local legends. I’m pretty sure there is a connection between the museum and the Pompey’s of Delray. Sadly, Mr. and Mrs. Pompey have passed so I can’t ask them but I plan to delve into the history to satisfy my curiosity.

When we were invited to share ideas and best practices with The Bahamian government about a decade or so ago, Bay Street was struggling with crime issues, vacancy in certain sections, an underutilized waterfront and stiff competition from the Atlantis resort which was sucking tourists off the cruise ships out of the downtown and into the casino and water parks.

Walking around Bay Street last week I saw the same issues—only now there is another mega resort to worry about: Bahia Mar.

Sure the streets were crowded on a warm Sunday but it didn’t appear that many people were shopping. The retail mix is heavy on t-shirts, perfume, duty free alcohol and jewelry—not surprising given the heavy influx of tourists.

Bay Street could use more food options—and while I didn’t feel unsafe (despite warnings from the cruise line about crime) the level and intensity of solicitors was a turn off. You were just assailed from the moment you get off the boat to the moment you get back on. Yuck….

Years ago we recommended that Nassau turn up the Bahamian charm—for example increase security but outfit police in traditional uniforms and activate the waterfront by incentivizing restaurants and cafes to balance the multitude of t-shirt shops. Granted these aren’t “genius” ideas and I can’t remember the rest but the exercise was fun and we made a lot of friends as a result.

That I didn’t see a whole lot of change on Bay Street is indicative of how hard transformation is to achieve.

When I think of Delray’s transformation I feel the same way. It takes a whole lot of hard work, dedication, investment and some gutsy decisions to make change—and a fair amount of good fortune too. It helps to catch a break or two along the way, but by the same token change doesn’t happen by accident. It happens via intention.

Recently, I ran into some consultants who worked on our downtown master plan way back in 2001.

The efforts our community made over the years were rewarded with awards which are nice….but not as important as the opportunity and value that were created.

Now I get that not everybody was pleased with the results. And they are entitled to their opinions and we are compelled to respect those views.

Yet, I can’t help but think that sometimes we go overboard with our angst. The consultant mentioned to me that “Delray is so hard on itself” and that statement struck me. It rang true.

Just take a cruise through social media to see for yourself—ugh… all the negativity.

Criticism that isn’t constructive isn’t valuable at all. It doesn’t feel like affection it feels like anger.

Accountability is necessary and important, but it’s best when it’s rooted in love and empathy.

As we head into the holiday season, I hope we see more love and less anger. More constructive guidance and empathy and less vitriol and blame.

Root your community in those values, observe the guardrails and be patient. The magic will happen.

 

 

 

Keep Your Amazon Headquarters; Build Your Own Ecosystem

NY is paying $61,000 per job and Virginia is shelling out $796mm in tax incentives to land Amazon’s second headquarters.

I saw an article in the Tampa Bay Business Journal recently that caught my eye.

The headline was a show stopper for those of us who care about economic development and the use of public dollars: “Incentives are becoming less important than workforce.”

Which is another way of saying that today—maybe more than ever—talent rules. And the cities and regions that develop, nurture and attract talent will be the cities that win.

The Business Journal’s headline may sound funny in the midst of perhaps the biggest incentive gusher ever which was the pursuit of Amazon’s H2 headquarters and its promise of 50,000 jobs and billions in economic impact. Congratulations to our friends in Crystal City and Long Island City: the two winners of the Amazon sweepstakes who will split the prize.

But even amidst the gaggle of mayors who threw incentives Amazon’s way, the smart guess was that Amazon would choose a headquarters where executives believe they can hire from a deep pool of talent. Northern Virginia and New York City are both regions rich in tech talent.

But also playing into the decision was Amazon’s desire to be in a city or region where today’s and tomorrow’s workers will want to live.

I’m a passionate student of economic development and it’s endlessly fascinating to me how cities and regions work or don’t work.

I think the most successful places practice economic “gardening” which is an effort to grow your own companies rather than throw money chasing corporations that oftentimes take advantage of cities by threatening to leave if you don’t ante up.

If you grow your own and create an environment where companies would be foolish to leave, you won’t to have worry that someone else will steal your jobs by waving checks at CEOs.

So how do you create an environment conducive to economic gardening and how do you keep the garden healthy and sustainable?

I like the analogy of threads—you have to knit a fabric and build a community by adding to– not tearing at –the fabric of your city.

Threads include: good schools, a good support network for parents, strong and safe neighborhoods, a clean environment, great parks, recreational opportunities, a range of housing options, good transportation networks, strong and ethical governance, business friendly regulations, a people friendly or tolerant atmosphere, abundant art and culture, a sense of place, efficient and competent local government, great health care and the list goes on.

If you build a strong fabric and create a place that is brimming with opportunities– both economic and social—over time you will create a dynamic and sustainable environment that generates jobs by keeping and attracting talent.

Consequently, if you tear at the fabric by pulling threads, chasing away investment, making it hard to get established and hard to get rooted you will send a message to go elsewhere. In those types of places we send a clear message. We are essentially telling our children that ‘yes we raised you here, but there’s nothing for you here so go elsewhere as soon as you can.’

And we will tell outsiders that their investments are better spent elsewhere.

Growth and change are hot topics around these parts. Recently, the South Florida Business Journal reported that there was $950 million of projects underway in downtown Delray Beach. That’s both a source of angst and pride and I can understand both feelings.

Growth and change can be hard to swallow, especially if it swallows up what we like best about our towns. But growth and change are also inevitable. The best communities find a way to shape and manage growth and change.

The best cities also focus on the opportunities that growth and change can provide: they maximize benefits hopefully for as many people as possible, while minimizing impacts.

They talk through the tough issues, raise the level of discourse and do their best to build for the future.

In many ways, we are all stewards. We are here to leave a better place for those who come next. If we adopt a mindset that we need to be concerned about not only our quality of life but also that of others, we have a chance to create something good. But if we have an “I’m in the boat, pull up the ladder” mentality we ensure that the future either drowns or heads elsewhere and that the boat we’re in will sink.

It’s better to swim than it is to sink.

 

In Praise of the Research Park

I’m a big fan of the Research Park at FAU and its CEO Andrew Duffell.

The park has become a major economic engine for Palm Beach County and beyond serving as warm and inviting place for talented entrepreneurs and researchers to build and scale their companies.

That’s important, because “economic gardening”–growing your own so to speak is smart policy.

As far as I’m concerned, Northern Virginia can have Amazon and its H2 Headquarters (and that’s where it’s going folks), I’d rather save incentive money and grow our own company’s right here at home. The Research Park is a good example of how that can work.

The Park’s impact has been profound– if somewhat unsung– in a region where it is hard to gain appreciation.

The 2017 numbers—which never tell the whole story—are nonetheless impressive. Consider:

  1. $387 million of investment capital raised
  2. $535.65 million in economic impact
  3. $67 million in annual payroll
  4. 3,088 total jobs sustained, that’s direct and indirect employment with another 250 jobs plus planned.
  5. 33 companies housed.
  6. 16 new patents in 2017.

On October 3, the FAU Research Park will host its annual awards banquet at The Addison in Boca.

It’s the fourth annual awards ceremony and it’s really a terrific idea to celebrate the success of the park and shine a spotlight on some of the standout players making it happen.

This is the power of having a university and a research park in our community. And the best is yet to come because I believe in the leadership of the park and their track record of results.

“The recipients of this year’s Research Park at FAU awards are all hugely impactful to the mission of the Research Park – to foster R&D at FAU and foster economic development in our region,” said Mr. Duffell, president and chief executive officer of the Research Park at FAU. “We are grateful to each for their unique contributions and hope that they inspire our stakeholders.”

The Research Park awards recognize distinguished contributions to the Research Park’s mission to create and sustain the ideal environment for innovation and invention, maximizing the academic and entrepreneurial talent and regional resources in South Florida to accelerate economic development and prosperity.

The award recipients for 2018 are:

Distinguished Researcher: Gregg Fields, Ph.D. is a professor, chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and director of the Center for Molecular Biology and Biotechnology in FAU’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Science. Fields applies chemistry in novel ways to answer important biological questions, many of which assist in the diagnosis and treatment of major diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, arthritis and cancer. He is a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is a renowned researcher who holds six U.S. patents and has one application being reviewed. The technology developed by Fields has resulted in three commercial products, currently sold by five different companies. He has authored or coauthored more than 260 scientific publications and has presented more than 190 invited lectures.

 

Distinguished Entrepreneur: Daniel Cane is the chief executive officer and co-founder of South Florida-based Modernizing Medicine, Inc., a healthcare IT company that is revolutionizing the way in which healthcare information is created, consumed and utilized to increase practice efficiency and improve patient outcomes. Joining the Research Park in 2012, Modernizing Medicine has grown to more than 650 employees and has raised more than $332 million in total investment. In 2016, the South Florida Business Journal named Cane as a “South Florida Ultimate CEO.” In 2015, he was named “EY Entrepreneur of the Year®.” Cane earned the Excalibur Award for Palm Beach Small Business Leader of the Year for 2013. Additionally, he also was named “Palm Beach County Ultimate CEO” by the South Florida Business Journal and “CEO of the Year” by CEO World. Recently, he and his wife, Debra, donated $1 million to FAU’s A.D. Henderson University School for STEM education initiatives.

Mr. Cane is a local product hailing from Lake Worth. What makes Dan extra special is that despite the rigors of running a hyper growth company, he has taken the time to be visible and accessible to local entrepreneurs and organizations. It makes a difference, because Mr. Cane serves as an inspiration and a role model for those aspiring to make a dent in business.

 

Distinguished Leader: Steven L. Abrams has been a member of the Palm Beach County Board of County Commissioners since 2009, winning re-election twice. Abrams has a lengthy record of public service. He is the former mayor of Boca Raton, elected in 2001 and re-elected in 2003 without opposition. In the 2005 election for mayor, Abrams received the most votes in city history and was later named mayor emeritus when he stepped down in 2008 due to term limits. Abrams’ work in regional transportation has been instrumental in the success of the Research Park at FAU’s access to Tri-Rail and the new I-95 interchange at Spanish River Boulevard, making the Research Park at FAU the only research park to have a direct on-ramp to an interstate.

Mayor Steven has been a terrific friend over the years and has served with distinction wherever he has landed. Many years ago, we went after Scripps together leading our cities joint efforts to bring the institute to Boca. While we fell one vote short, Steven showed his mettle and his commitment to economic development. He’s a very worthy recipient.

 

Distinguished Organization: Small Business Development Center at FAU delivered substantial consulting and training services in 2016 that resulted in a significant return on investment, including delivering more than 13,000 hours of consulting to 1,360 entrepreneurs at no cost. The SBDC’s services resulted in the creation and retention of almost 6,000 jobs in our region, and generated almost $700 million in sales. The SBDC’s role in Florida’s economic development by assisting entrepreneurs in every stage of the business life cycle is invaluable and an important complement to the greater FAU community.

To purchase tickets to attend the event visit www.research-park.org.

 

 

 

 

 

Thankful…

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, we’d like to offer a short list of what we’re thankful for in Boca Raton and Delray Beach.
This is by no means a complete list, just some things that are top of mind these days.

Wise Tribe -this Delray Beach based organization is quietly but effectively building community and asking provocative and important questions via a series of events and talks. We’re grateful for their passion and willingness to convene.

Boca Bowl– Isn’t it cool that we have our very own Bowl game?

Boca’s Office of Economic Development—This very active office is crushing it. Just check out their social media feed. Always positive, always newsworthy and always announcing lots of jobs and partnerships with local companies and CEOs.

The holiday display at 5th Avenue Grill–Simply magnificent and a great Delray tradition. GM Glenn “Zippy” Fiedler and his staff do an amazing job.  Make sure to check it out, you won’t be disappointed.

Delray’s downtown seasonal festivities– Lots of hard work goes into making Delray a holiday hot spot. We appreciate it. So do tens of thousands of visitors and residents.

Community Greening—this nonprofit has a simple but profound mission: plant trees in Delray and educate people about the benefits. If you want to see how this works up close head to Knowles Park on November 25 from 9 am to noon to help the group plant trees. You’ll have fun and they’ll give you pizza.
Sounds like a deal.

Creative Mornings —At the risk of being sappy, we just love the positive energy and smart conversation. This month’s meeting at Saltwater Brewery was lots of fun and an eye opener about the health of our oceans and planet.  They have built something very special at Creative Mornings. Very very special.

Delray Art League–This community institution is a local treasure. Not only do they produce wonderful works of art, but they support young artists with scholarships. You can catch this amazing group during its next Artists in the Park outing Dec. 2 at Veterans Park. You won’t be disappointed and the artists are also very nice.
Happy Thanksgiving!