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.

Festivals Have Their Place

 

Garlic Fest has become a Delray tradition providing much needed funds to local non-profits and schools. Photo by VMA Studios courtesy from Garlic Festival website.

Garlic Fest has become a Delray tradition providing much needed funds to local non-profits and schools. Photo by VMA Studios courtesy from Garlic Festival website.

We know people who love the Delray Affair.

We know others who wait with baited breath for the Garlic Festival (pun intended). And we know people who love craft beer and spend extra to buy VIP tickets to support Old School Square and enjoy the latest suds from small purveyors— many of them local.

We also know others who avoid the Delray Affair, don’t get the whole garlic thing and have no interest in tasting anything named Swamp Ape.

Different strokes for different folks as they say.

But whether you like or loathe events—and a recent poll of Delray voters show that 83 percent of them support and/or attend downtown special events–there’s no doubt that festivals have played a large role in building Delray’s brand.

There’s also no argument that they can be disruptive and costly. But a smart look at the issue would not just focus on impacts but benefits as well. In the coming weeks, Delray Beach commissioners are expected to consider a new event policy and cost structure. While many (not all)  of the policy recommendations we’ve heard about seem to make sense, the cost structure attached to the policy threatens to kill the events. This would be a big mistake. In many cases, the cost of events would nearly triple, which would most likely drive them out of business. That would be tragic.

Special events are a form of economic development. They bring people to your urban core and they help to ring cash registers and fill restaurants—and not just on the day of the event. Many people will come back to Delray after having been exposed to the downtown at a festival.

They also attract tourists and day visitors and some of those tourists and visitors have ended up investing here. We know many residents who decided to live here in part because they enjoyed the events and the overall vibrancy of the city. Events are placemaking and creating a sense of place is critically important.

Festivals also serve as important fundraisers for key community non-profits and they help to build community too.

Delray Beach is very fortunate to have a downtown, a place to gather. Cities without downtowns feel different and many seek to create urban cores to generate that community feeling.

Old School Square was a brilliant civic idea because instead of bulldozing history past visionaries like Frances Bourque recognized the strategic importance of having a cultural center at the heart of our city’s redevelopment efforts. And make no mistake Old School Square was the catalyst. The outdoor space is ideal for events and the new park– approved by voters in 2005 to replace an ugly surface parking lot– should be designed to host events and every day activities.

The energy created by the restoration gave life to efforts to create a vibrant downtown which is at the heart of our success and our economic well-being. Other cities have a beach; very few have a downtown like Delray Beach.

If you are fortunate enough to live anywhere near the downtown you have seen your property values soar–usually viewed as a good thing. There’s a correlation between our downtown’s success and property values. It’s doubtful we would’ve seen any appreciation if downtown remain vacant, blighted and dangerous. But when you are a short golf cart ride away from over 100 great restaurants, shops and yes events you can bet that translates into value. It also translates into qualify of life.

So yes there is a strong need to preach quality over quantity. Some events are tired and need to go or at the very least need upgrading. But that’s a very different conversation than a wholesale “cull”.  Where possible disruption should be mitigated and costs are always a factor but chasing away events from our central gathering place would be a big mistake especially if many of those events are contained, don’t close roads and are enjoyed by many. We should also consider that many of the events raise needed funds for worthy community non-profits.

A few emails and complaints is not a reason to jettison a formula that has worked. Event producers have stepped up and agreed to compromise on items such as their footprint, vendor quality and road closures. Our city leaders should declare victory, perhaps gently raise some fees and move on. Events belong downtown.