Change

change

You are never FINISHED

“By nature good public spaces that respond to the needs, the opinions and the ongoing changes of the community require attention.  Amenities wear out, needs change and other things happen in an urban environment. Being open to the need for change and having the management flexibility to enact that change is what builds great public spaces and great cities and towns”–Project for Public Spaces 11 principles for creating great community spaces. Note: Founder and President Fred Kent has a home in Delray Beach.

The Project for Public Spaces is spot on, as they always seem to be.

The best part of cities is their changing nature. Cities evolve. Places change. That’s the beauty of an urban environment, it’s never stale. And switched on cities know this, embrace this and seek to shape and ride the waves of change.

We are witnessing tremendous change in Boca Raton these days. Just cruise on over to Palmetto Park Road and you’ll see large scale development taking shape on what I’ve always found to be an interesting but underperforming street.

The nature of the development is not everyone’s idea of healthy growth but there’s no question that Boca is evolving before our eyes. And I’ve talked to many people who love what they’re seeing. Development and change will always be a mixed bag. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder as they say.

On Military Trail, the Moderne Boca is taking shape and its nice to see some attention to design in a western location.

FAU Research Park is booming under the capable leadership of Andrew Duffell.  Both FAU and Lynn are coming of age as innovative institutions of higher learning and the Park at Broken Sound  is sprouting three new residential apartment projects (1,050 units) to go along with office space and new retail in the 700 acre business park. With yoga rooms, pet facilities, a Fresh Market, putting greens and Zen Gardens, the former home of IBM is shaping up to be a true, live, work, play destination.

It’s an interesting time.

And a time when visionary public officials have an opportunity to work with the community and design spaces that can become great public spaces.

In Delray, the opportunities are immense but only if we recognize them and embrace good design and change.

US 1 is looking good these days. And there is tremendous opportunity to extend the downtown north and south along Federal Highway. The idea to narrow the federals and slow down speeding traffic was first broached in 1991 but it took a decade before it became a city goal when it was included in the Downtown Master Plan. It took years to construct, but now that the project is complete, it presents an opportunity to create something special; it’s now a street not a highway. There’s a difference.

The area near Third and Third and South of the Avenue offer great opportunities for infill development.

Congress Avenue also represents an important opportunity for transformation.

My hope is that both Delray and Boca think strategically about placemaking and about what is needed in order to sustain and build on their obvious success.

Any analysis would include honest discussions about what has worked (and how those aspects can be extended and sustained), what’s not working, what can work better (lazy assets) and what’s missing.

Other key discussions should focus on demographics, design, mobility, land uses and how it’s all paid for.

In Delray, that means focusing on what’s important and no more majoring in the minor. (For example, weeks of discussion on a tattoo shop but little or no discussion on how to attract millennials, create more jobs and add middle class housing or how to improve our torturous approval process).

It’s time to move on Congress Avenue, not wait for an outside firm to confirm and codify what 30 plus citizens who studied the corridor for nearly a year already concluded. A sense of urgency is needed to take advantage of the economic cycle.

It’s also time to activate the Old School Park and make it a great public space as was envisioned when voters overwhelmingly passed a bond issue in support of that idea in 2005.

It’s time to bring back discussion of a bonus program for our CBD to jumpstart housing for young professionals who are attracted to downtown living. The best way to support our mom and pop businesses is to encourage people to live downtown. Study after study show that downtown residents strongly support local businesses. As rents soar –threatening to crowd out independents –this is needed more than ever.

Downtown office space is also critical. Every conversation I’ve witnessed with and about entrepreneurs laments the lack of office space in the urban core. This isn’t necessarily a call for class A space, but rather creative space, co-working space and incubator space. It’s nice to see The Kitchn open inside the offices of Woo Creative and Delray Newspaper, but more is needed.

The aim of past citizen driven visions was to build on food, beverage and culture and create a sustainable city driven by creative industries. Delray’s vibrant, urban feel is hugely appealing to entrepreneurs but a lack of space hinders the sectors ability to gain traction in our central business district.

An important caveat to note: the key words are “build on” not jettison or replace. So it would be folly to lose events or culture or our robust food scene, we need an additive attitude because community building is not a zero sum game.

Finally, both Delray and Boca are blessed with abundant human capital. A strategy to retain graduating college students and bring home locals who go off to college while also attracting the best and brightest from other locales will go a long way toward diversifying our economy and growing opportunities. Again, placemaking is at the core but so is opportunity making. We need to create cities of opportunity.

We also need to tap into the incredible knowledge base of our boomer and senior population many of whom long to be creative, active and involved as they age.

Cultivating our human capital is the best economic development strategy we can ever hope to conceive.

When I survey the region, it’s hard not to get excited by the possibilities. Sure there are big problems and challenges. Every single place in America has them. But few regions have our upside potential.

Miami is rapidly taking its place as among the world’s most exciting cities. Fort Lauderdale is making some interesting strides and several other cities in Broward, notably Pompano Beach are well positioned for a renaissance.

Boca is attracting industry and further north Boynton Beach is making some noise with several growing breweries, Hacklab, young leaders, eastern investment and some really cool restaurants (Bond and Smolders, Sweetwater and The Living Room among them) and keep your eyes on 22-year-old Ariana Peters who is quietly accumulating key properties in Lake Worth. Northern Palm Beach County cities, led by dynamic business leaders such as Chamber President Beth Kigel, are working well together on branding and industry recruitment efforts.

It’s an exciting time. Cities can’t rest on their laurels and they can’t succumb to those who want to freeze progress and stop change.

You can do the former but you can’t do the latter. And if you freeze progress you can be sure that the change you’ll see won’t be pleasant. Not at all. It will be ruinous.

As General Eric Shinsecki once said: “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.”

 

Here’s to the Innovators

aspiration

Innovation comes from those who see things that others don’t. It comes from people who not only question the status quo- But keep persisting in the face of all the naysayers. Steve Blank

Innovators and entrepreneurs are fun to hang around with.

They see the world differently, questioning, probing and always trying to find a new and better way forward.

They tend to be optimists; in fact I can’t remember ever meeting a pessimistic entrepreneur.

In order to be an entrepreneur you have to be willing to take risks and willing to fail–sometimes publicly. Sometimes spectacularly.  Those failures—while sometimes painful and expensive– make you stronger.

I’m sure there are fearless people out there-somewhere–but I haven’t met any. It’s not whether you have fears, but whether you can overcome those doubts that allow you to be a successful entrepreneur.

I’m involved with a dedicated group of entrepreneurs on several projects at the moment.

Celsius is a company that is pioneering a healthy energy drink that is clinically proven to burn body fat and calories. The beverage space is known for innovation–from coconut water and protein drinks to hangover and relaxation drinks –it’s a fascinating and highly competitive space. The beverage business is complicated and capital intensive. The competition is also fierce. But the rewards can be amazing if you can create a hit brand.

Celsius has the added pressure of being a public company with all the scrutiny and regulation that comes with life in the world of Sarbanes Oxley.

It’s also an international business with distribution in Asia, Europe and Brazil. The company does great business via ecommerce and in channels ranging from fitness to grocery, convenience, mass and specialty retailers.

It’s a fascinating business that often comes down to hand to hand combat on the shelves. But when you believe in your brand—as we do passionately– and the importance of introducing a drink without sugar and aspartame to the mass market it’s a privilege to pursue the opportunity.

We believe we can change the world.

So do our investors, which include two self-made billionaires who remain in the game because they still have a hunger to bet on companies and technologies that make a dent in the universe.

I’m also involved with introducing an all-natural, gluten free premium hot sauce and Bloody Mary mix to the market. We recently gained distribution for Tabanero in Publix, a point of pride. We already are on the shelves at HEB, Lucky’s Market, Sprouts and soon a division of Kroger, the largest supermarket chain in America. We are served in close to 3,000 restaurants in South Florida, Tampa and Southern California and have made the cut at some really cool restaurant and hotel chains including Tupelo Honey, Margaritaville, select Marriott’s and Bokamper’s.

It’s been quite a ride. And while hot sauce is an exploding category, it’s also fiercely contested by some huge brands.

So what’s the opportunity that we see? We think we have the best tasting sauce in the world and its healthy too, featuring premium veggies without the vinegary taste. Even people who typically don’t like hot sauce– love Tabanero. To see people enjoy the hard work of your team provides tremendous satisfaction.

It’s cool to be an insurgent brand; to take on the big guys and to develop a fan base all from two small offices in Boca Raton and LA.

Knowing my love of entrepreneurs, I’m often approached by fledgling companies for help and advice and I in turn seek help and advice from others who have made the journey. While business is competitive, I have found that most people you ask are happy to lend an ear, open a door and connect you to others who may be able to help you achieve a dream. Entrepreneurs tend to be generous, another reason to embrace them.

Among the many young entrepreneurs that I have worked with, I see similar traits of curiosity, courage and a strong desire to serve others. I’d like you to know about a few.

I met Jake Artzi a few years back when I spoke to a class at the Boca Chamber’s YEA program (Young Entrepreneurs Academy). Jake and I have stayed in touch and now he’s at the University of Michigan where he is pursuing his studies while also building a company called BoVault.  http://bovault.com/

BoVault is a safe place to store your valuables and charge your gadgets while you enjoy a recreational activity such as a trip to the beach. The BoVault locker has cameras embedded in the unit to provide 24/7 security monitoring. BoVault is completely solar powered and 100% Made in America. It’s a cool technology and Jake is a driven young entrepreneur. I have no doubt he will build a great company over time.

Brian Niles and Patrick Stinus were two guys I met in a Delray coffee shop a few years back. GE trained MBA’s who understand operations and finance, they were business consultants who were so good clients wanted to hire them permanently to run and grow their businesses. But Brian and Patrick had a dream of their own called “Rooster”, a company that helps a huge range of service providers grow their businesses. Armed with a passion to help other entrepreneurs, off the charts smarts and a work ethic that simply won’t quit, I have no doubt that Rooster, a local start-up is going to be huge.

From that first meeting on Atlantic Avenue until today, we have continued a conversation about life and business.

Check out their site: http://www.roosterlocal.com/. At last week’s Business Development Board Entrepreneurs lunch, Brian and Patrick surprised me with a founder’s button, which was a touching gesture that really moved me. Because the truth is, there’s not much I can teach these guys. They are just brilliant people. But I can listen and I can encourage because entrepreneurship can be lonely and more than a little scary. And I can relate very well to those emotions as well as to the highs you experience when you see a product come to life and you take it to market.

This blog is primarily about how cities and towns can be entrepreneurial too. Yes governments can be entrepreneurial and I would argue that they need to be.

Delray has been a very entrepreneurial city taking risks, overcoming the critics and naysayers and creating a vibrant community that has created value both real (dollars, tax base and jobs) and intangible (quality of life).

Boca’s roots are also very entrepreneurial with the IBM PC being invented here among other incredible technological feats that have changed the world.

The city has innovative schools and universities, a thriving tech sector and incredible medical research happening everywhere you look.

In addition, both cities have thriving food and beverage scenes, innovative vacation properties, marketing and media geniuses, artistic visionaries and some very talented designers and architects. The list goes on and it’s exciting to see the area grow and thrive.

The key is to be a community of opportunity, where people of all ages can find inspiration and personal growth.

Critics and naysayers will focus on the negative impacts and all that can go wrong. That’s what they do.

And truth is they play a role. They raise some questions that must be answered and they also serve as inspiration–if nothing else to prove them wrong.

But make no mistake, businesses and communities must embrace the innovators and the entrepreneurs if we are to grow and create opportunities. If you succumb to the negative you’ll be hard pressed to uncover the positive.

Years ago, I had the privilege to work with an Office Depot executive named Sam Mathis. Sam, has since passed, but he touched a lot of lives and he helped our city on a race relations initiative that many thought was foolish but others thought was necessary and overdo. Sam taught me that the sweetest fruit often resides on the part of the tree most difficult to reach. When I got tired, he had a unique ability to read my moods and he would reach out and keep me motivated.

I know we didn’t “solve” the challenge, but I do think we made a difference.

We should all agree on the need to reach and stretch…it makes all the difference. As Steve Blank says: keep persisting in the face of the naysayers.

Celebrating Entrepreneurs Delray Style

Rubin

It’s Sugar CEO Jeff Rubin

Five years ago I co-chaired a committee for the Business Development Board that focused on entrepreneurship.
It was a change of pace for the BDB– our county’s chief economic development organization– which has traditionally focused on recruiting new businesses and expanding existing ones.

But more and more communities are realizing that economic gardening –growing your own–is a desirable strategy. I would argue it’s the most desirable strategy– surely better than throwing money and incentives at companies that may or may not stay for the long haul.
The  entrepreneurship committee is the BDB’s foray into connecting with and supporting efforts to strengthen our entrepreneurial ecosystem. The BDB is an effective convening entity able to bring big businesses, governments and chambers together and introduce them to the next generation of business leaders.
So when my friend, Committee Chair Connor Lynch, invited me to this year’s entrepreneurs lunch I was eager to see what’s happened since Connor and I along with other committee members launched the lunch a few years back with a keynote from the founder of Priceline.
That event was a success and I’m happy to report that this year’s event was even better and far more powerful.
Connor and the BDB delivered.
And what made the event even cooler for me and other Delray folks in the crowd -Chamber CEO Karen Granger, UBS exec Nick Sadowsky, Red Pepper Principal Christina Hammond, Florida Blue’s Beth Johnston, Economic Development officials Joan Goodrich and Liz Burrows and the Small Business Development Center’s Vin Nolan–was that this year’s lunch featured TED like talks from three talented entrepreneurs with strong Delray ties.

ryan

Woo Creative founder Ryan Boylston

The featured speakers were Ryan Boylston founder of Woo Creative and my partner in Four Story Media, Felecia Hatcher founder of Feverish Pops and Code Fever and Jeff Rubin founder and CEO of It’s Sugar.
Ryan runs a successful branding and creative agency, serves on city boards and is an active volunteer for community causes. Together with several other partners, employees and freelancers we are working on creating a Hyperlocal news platform in Delray and Boca. Ryan is a whirlwind of activity and ideas as well as a young father and husband.  You can get exhausted just thinking about his daily responsibilities. Ryan’s talk focused on millennials and business creation. It was fascinating and can be viewed on Facebook’s Woo Creative page. (If I was tech savvy I would have figured out how to add the link).
He also made an important point: while we celebrate the Zuckerberg’s and Branson’s for their moon shot success we need to build the capacity of those starting local businesses so that they can succeed and create  jobs.
Yes. We. Do.

Felecia Hatcher founder of Code Fever

Felecia Hatcher founder of Code Fever

Felecia, who is a delightful and energetic entrepreneur, grew up in Delray (she went to high school with Connor) and her dad has run a successful construction company here for 17 years. She sold Feverish Pops, has written some great books and is now passionately building Code Fever which seeks to teach African Americans and Hispanics the coding skills they need to succeed in the 21st Century.
That type of effort needs to happen in Delray.
Jeff Rubin has an It’s  Sugar store on Atlantic Avenue and has seen his candy business grow exponentially. He’s on pace to have over 100 stores in 2017.
Despite that frenetic pace, he has found the time to connect with students at Carver Middle School teaching students about business and marketing. The effort created a Carver branded gummy bear. How cool is that?
Kudos to the Delray chamber and City education efforts for making that connection happen.
So my friends,  Delray’s Got Talent.

It’s here.

The talent has been attracted to Delray by three decades of redevelopment efforts which has created a vibrant place with great restaurants, events, festivals, cultural activities, recreational opportunities and other intangibles that we need to support, cherish, improve, protect and nurture. These are the conversations we need to be having. How to leverage what has been created in our city.
Unfortunately, our city is not having those discussions and to the extent they are, the discussion seems fixated on costs, negative not positive impacts, inconveniences etc.  All of those are valid items to discuss and debate but it’s not a complete picture if you don’t include the benefits and the possibilities. And I would argue that the benefits far, far outweigh the negatives.
If we want to take care of our future we have to raise the level of discussion beyond whether Garlic festivals should have mechanized rides or whether we should permit a tattoo business into town.
We have to figure out how we can make sure Felecia brings Code Fever to Delray so our children can learn needed skills.
We have to figure out how to improve our public schools. And we  have to figure out where our workforce can live and how we can bring businesses to our downtown (which will never be done) and to Congress Avenue and to our Federal Highway corridor, West Atlantic and “four corners” area at Atlantic and Military Trail.
You can’t cut your way to success, you have to grow responsibly and strategically.
We need expansive thinking, not regressive and deconstructive policies.
The entrepreneurs are here. And more will come and more will emerge if we continue to aspire as a community. They will go elsewhere and our youth will leave  if we don’t aspire. That’s how communities whither and die, when they fixate on negatives, grow complacent or send a message that business (and dreams) should look elsewhere.
Let’s embrace progress and manage change. It’s what entrepreneurs do every day.