Ingenuity in Crisis

There’s a little bit of Edison in all of us.


“The value of an idea, lies in the using of it.” -Thomas Edison.

There’s no amount of perfume that you can put on this pandemic to make it smell good.
So I won’t try.
This stinks.
It’s scary, surreal and tragic.
But I’m heartened somewhat by some of the things I’m seeing and experiencing.
As I work the phones, email, Zoom and Chime I’m impressed by the ingenuity, resilience, generosity and innovation I am seeing.
People are doing all they can to make it work, to stay alive and to survive if not quite thrive.
Companies are figuring out how to work remotely, charities and arts organizations are figuring out ways to raise funds and stay relevant and schools are digging deep to find ways to educate their students.
Make no mistake, the pandemic is taking a toll and I’ve had my fair share of calls from friends worried about their businesses and jobs.
I’ve had other calls from friends concerned for their health and the health of their loved ones.
But I’ve also had a lot of conversations about life. And they’ve been good.
I think the pandemic has made us appreciate some of the simple things in life that we might take for granted.
From going to the beach and the gym to visiting local restaurants and stores, it will be a long while before we take these simple pleasures for granted once we are able to return to these places.
As for me, I miss my office mates, the kibitzing, the daily debate over where to eat lunch and the great feeling that Friday brings.
Right now, I don’t even know what day it is.
I miss movies, shows and walking the mall with my brother in law and sister in law.
I miss Saturday night.
You know date night…right now every night is date night which is cool but I’d much rather have a romantic evening at La Cigale than watch (yet) another episode of “Say Yes to the Dress.”
But I digress.
There’s a whole lot of discussion of what comes next and how things won’t return to normal.
So here’s a few general predictions.
Remote meetings are here to stay but I think as soon as it’s safe we will want to congregate again. We are social creatures and let’s face it, we miss each other.
I think the Eat Local, Shop Local ethos is also here to stay and that’s a very good thing.
There’s nothing better we can do than to support local businesses.
It’s not only good for the civic soul, it’s good for the economy as well. Buying local ensures that our money will circulate right here at home.

There will be a lasting appreciation for doctors, nurses, medical workers, restaurant staff, delivery drivers, first responders, grocery store staff, teachers and others who truly make our world go round but are rarely appreciated or compensated for their work. Let’s hope this newfound —or in some cases rediscovered —appreciation leads to meaningful policies that will make people’s  lives easier in terms of housing, health care and compensation. It may take a while but let’s get started.

There will be a lot of focus on local manufacturing, farming  and public health. Long, long overdue. Let’s build that infrastructure, let’s get after it.

Some will rediscover respect for expertise.
Some will acknowledge that Ronald Reagan’s tired old “government isn’t the solution, it’s the problem” philosophy has proven to be ridiculous.
Of course, government isn’t the answer to all problems. But good government is necessary, good government is important and let’s face it when the poop hits the fan we look to government to provide answers.
We need to improve government not destroy it. We need public service to be respected and we need to attract the best and the brightest to the field.
We humans are interesting. Once we absorb the shock, we get about the business of making things work. The best of us seek to help, educate, volunteer and innovate.
I can’t wait to see what this crisis will yield. I do believe with all my heart that it will be a different but better world.

A Time to Evolve

In business, what’s dangerous is not to evolve.” Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO.

I thought of that quote as I see the businesses in our communities rise to the occasion during this unique period of peril in our world.

Sit down restaurants pivot to a takeout model, delivery services cope with a monumental increase in volume, hospitals and their workers perform heroically, auto companies retool and crank out ventilators, educators figure out ways to reach their students and schools find a way to feed families.
It’s breathtaking.
Yes, finding  toilet paper can still be a challenge, but Americans by and large are rising to the occasion.

It’s heartening to see because I suspect that our political dysfunction obscures our sense of what’s possible.
So this is a good time to observe how entrepreneurs in all walks of life figure a way forward. That’s not to say that everyone is going to make it, this pandemic is a monumental challenge and there will be plenty of businesses that won’t make it.

The Palm Beach Post ran a poignant story this week outlining the toll the pandemic has had on new businesses. We are seeing how hard it is for newspapers and magazines to pivot to digital. You can report online but finding a business model that pays for good journalism is hard.
Still, companies large and small are not going down without a fight.
And it’s that fighting spirit and our innovative chops that will ultimately get us out of this mess.
It will come at a cost. A high one at that, in terms of lives, illness, mental stress and trillions of dollars but we will get out of this and we will thrive again …someday.
Speaking of evolving, this is a good time to look at our leaders and see if they are evolving too.
This crisis will force leaders in business, government, education, health care, the non-profit world and the military to adapt and evolve.
Some will have to evolve their leadership styles. Others will have to adjust their governing philosophies or their business models.
Those that do, will succeed. Those that don’t, won’t make it.
This is a time when leaders communicate more and in better ways. This is a time when real leaders cast a wide net and ask for help and advice even from their rivals and competitors.
It’s an era that will require strength and empathy, vision and attention to the day to day blocking and tackling which just got a whole lot harder.
Leaders are defined by how they navigate challenges. It’s easier to be in charge in good times when investment is pouring in and opportunities are abundant. It’s hard when everywhere you look is a minefield and the path forward is shrouded in fog.
Partisanship aside, I’m impressed with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. He strikes me as someone steeped in facts, willing to take responsibility, empathetic and wholly human. He’s providing us a real time master class in leadership.
In business, I’m liking what I’m seeing out of GM CEO Mary Barra who is reconfiguring factories to crank out hard to make ventilators. Her workers and engineers are amazing.
I’m also impressed by our Firefighters Union for stepping up and pooling their cash to support local restaurants and their recent public appeal not to buy them meals or coffee but to save those efforts for families in need.

We often see our unions slammed during election season. But this proves what I’ve always known (because I’ve worked with these men and women) that these people are dedicated professionals who are loyal to our community. Sure they care about their pensions and benefits ( as they should)  but they also care about us. They have always gone above and beyond and that’s to be commended and cherished.

Same with nurses, doctors, teachers, restaurant workers, grocery store employees and those who deliver packages.
We are fortunate.
Yes, even in this horrible time of pandemic, we are fortunate.

Finding Inspiration In Crisis

Jonas Salk


PBS has been running a great documentary called “The Polio Crusade.”

If you are looking for hope and inspiration in these dark days of Covid-19, I highly recommend you watch this remarkable program which is part of the American Experience series.
It traces the amazing story of Jonas Salk and his successful quest to develop a polio vaccine.
Salk was an interesting man.
Described as “super ambitious” by his fellow scientists, he was a man who thought big and who had great faith in his ideas.
Of course, like many of the great ones, he had his share of detractors one of whom described him as a garage chemist. But the critics did not dissuade Salk. He was determined to stamp out polio quickly and sure enough he did.
The coronavirus has some eerie parallels with the polio epidemic. Images of people in iron lungs is reminiscent of the images we are seeing of people on respirators and ventilators.
The fear we are experiencing is also reminiscent of the polio era.
Surveys at the time said Americans feared polio almost as much as they feared nuclear war.
They craved  a vaccine and officials at the time were willing to take risks to conquer the disease. They were willing to have their children take a vaccine that nobody was sure would work. Well maybe nobody but Salk.
This was 1954, a different moment in American history, a time when people trusted their government and trusted science.
They were willing to try.
In 1955, when the results of the field trials were released the entire world waited with baited breath.
Factory whistles blew, children cheered and parents wept when  it was learned that the Salk vaccine worked.
Twenty years of efforts. Twenty years of giving dimes to fund research paid off.
It’s an uplifting story.
Today, we need history to repeat itself.
And I’m confident that somewhere, a brilliant scientist or team of scientists, will come up with an effective cure and treatment for the scourge we are experiencing today.
  More than 140 experimental drug treatments and vaccines for the coronavirus are in development worldwide, most in early stages, including 11 already in clinical trials. Counting drugs approved for other diseases, there are 250 clinical trials testing treatments for vaccines for the virus. Hundreds more are planned.
Until then, we wait. We pray. We hope and we support those on the front lines of the coronavirus.
While the coming weeks are predicted to be grim, watching the “Polio Crusade” gives one hope and faith in human ingenuity. There’s an answer out there and it will be found.

Boca Makes A SMART Hire

Pedro Moras

The City of Boca Raton recently hired Pedro Moras as its first ever “Innovation Strategist” and I think that’s worthy of applause.

According to the press release announcing the hire, Moras was hired to promote innovation and the use of technology within the community. Additionally, Moras will work to develop and implement SMART City initiatives and collaborate with City staff to explore innovation in city operations.

Now the cynics out there will say innovation and government should never be used in the same sentence and that the term Smart City is an oxymoron.

The cynics would be wrong. As they usually are.

Cities today have to innovate or risk irrelevance. They should strive to be “smart” not only in terms of technology but in all areas: sustainability, citizen engagement, public safety, parks design, transportation, land development and the list goes on.

It’s good to see Boca Raton make a statement with the hiring of an innovation strategist and it will be interesting to see where the city goes as a result.

Moras seems to have the background and chops to make a difference.

Prior to joining the city, Moras cofounded PetMio, a pet food-technology start-up that uses advanced artificial intelligence technology to create personalized pet nutrition products. He also served as Managing Partner at the Konnected Minds Group, a Miami based innovation consultancy. During his time in the corporate world, he was the founding member of the Transformational Innovation Group at Jarden Consumer Solution, a corporate new ventures group focused on identifying, developing and commercializing new product and business opportunities.

“Innovation is the purposeful application that improves our condition and community,” said Moras. “Through that application we can accomplish tremendous feats that improve the lives of our families and our community. It is because of innovation that we evolved so much as a society and I am excited to further expand innovative achievements in Boca Raton.”

Boca has an interesting innovation pedigree.

Boca Raton’s history dates back to pioneering farmers, there’s an interesting history relative to Mediterranean architecture and of course, the birth of IBM’s personal computer (PC) in 1967. Through the years, Boca Raton’s entrepreneurial culture has supported technology and innovation through economic development incentives that have led to the creation of facilities such as the Boca Raton Innovation Campus (BRIC). Boca Raton is also home to three universities that incorporate innovation into curriculums and the community through programs such as FAU Tech Runway.

“I think Boca Raton is in a unique position because the foundation of entrepreneurship and innovation already exists,” said Moras. “And that foundation is strong from an economic, social and environmental standpoint, compared to many cities across the country. I think a key to taking Boca Raton to the next level, is bringing together the brilliant minds in our schools, businesses, organizations and civic centers under a shared vision and giving them the tools to create our future.”

During his first year, Moras will work on creating Boca Raton’s innovation identity and define what being a SMART city means to the community. In addition, he plans to test and learn new concepts, programs and ideas in order to ultimately “create an ecosystem of innovation that is continuously creating breakthroughs in technology, education, the arts and more, and become an even more vibrant entrepreneurial community that attracts the best minds to come live here and work here.”

As a student of local government, I am anxious to see where this all leads. When I was on the Delray City Commission we strived to be “civic entrepreneurs” and encouraged staff to take risks and innovate in terms of policy and engagement. It made a difference, because we strived to make it  safe to experiment and to learn. That’s how progress happens.

In so many aspects of our society right now, innovation and technology is outpacing government’s ability to keep up. This makes government look slow, reactive and frankly a less exciting place to work if you are a young person looking for a career.

So Boca’s move is intriguing. Yes, it’s only one person, but it’s a bold start.



We Have Some Work To Do

Most of America is deteriorating economically.

That’s the conclusion of a new study recently reported by that has created a stir in cities and state capitals. It probably hasn’t made a dent in Washington, where they are too busy talking past each other and raking in big bucks for re-election to care.

Axios is on online news organization. They have some really good journalists and their coverage is usually pretty insightful. So what did Axios find?

Economic prosperity is concentrated in America’s elite ZIP Codes, but economic stability outside of those communities is rapidly deteriorating.

What does that mean?  U.S. geographical economic inequality is growing, meaning your economic opportunity is more tied to your location than ever before. Which means that your location better have a plan to keep their economies viable.

A large portion of the country is being left behind by today’s economy, according to a county-by-county report released this week by the Economic Innovation Group, a non-profit research and advocacy organization.

Key findings:

New jobs are clustered in the economy’s best-off places, leaving one of every four new jobs for the bottom 60% of ZIP Codes.

Most of today’s distressed communities have seen zero net gains in employment and business establishment since 2000. In fact, more than half have seen net losses on both fronts.

Half of adults living in distressed ZIP Codes are attempting to find gainful employment in the modern economy armed with only a high school education at best.

The map: The fastest growing Western cities (such as Gilbert, Ariz., and Plano, Texas) and “tech hubs” (Seattle, San Francisco, Austin) dominate the list of the most prosperous cities in the country. Cities that were once industrial powerhouses in the Midwest and Northeast, like Cleveland and Newark, are now more likely to be on the distressed end of the spectrum.

The cycle: Fewer new companies are forming than ever before, which disproportionately hurts distressed communities. The new businesses that do get started are often located in thriving communities where educated workers are. So talented people are forced to leave places with little economic opportunity — even if they have personal and family reasons to stay — to move to those where there is opportunity.

So how do we rank?

Economic Distress Indicators for: Palm Beach County, FL

Population: 1,378,810

% in Distressed Zip Codes: Palm Beach County 4.7%

% in Prosperous Zip Codes: Palm Beach County 35.1%


No High School Diploma: Palm Beach County 12.2% U.S. 13.3%

Housing Vacancy Rate: Palm Beach 8.2%  U.S. 8.3%

Adults Not Working: Palm Beach County 26.9% U.S. 28.2%

Poverty Rate: Palm Beach County 14.5%  U.S. 15.5%

Distress Score: 14.3

Distress Rank: 446

Overall, Palm Beach County is rated “comfortable” with indicators meeting or exceeding other counties and the national average. I also looked at three zip codes in Delray Beach and found interesting stats.

In 33445, which includes a lot of Delray Beach west of 95 and 30,460 people, the distressed rating was 30.2, more than double the rate for Palm Beach County. In my zip code, 33444, home to 22,440, the distress rank was a dismal 59.5. The downtown/beach area zip code, 33483 had a distress rating of 21.6 and consists of 11,850 people.

Distress was measured using 7 metrics.

  1. No high school diploma: Percent of the population 25 years and older without a high school diploma or equivalent
  2. Housing vacancy rate: Percent of habitable housing that is unoccupied, excluding properties that are for seasonal, recreational, or occasional use
  3. Adults not working: Percent of the prime-age population (ages 25-64) not currently in work
  4. Poverty rate: Percent of the population living under the poverty line
  5. Median income ratio: A geography’s median income expressed as a percentage of its state’s median income
  6. Change in employment: Percent change in the number of jobs from 2011 to 2015
  7. Change in business establishments: Percent change in the number of business establishments from 2011 to 2015.

This blog has long championed the importance of economic development and the need to strengthen and diversify our economy.

The stakes are high.

The report also indicated that less distressed communities are healthier communities. The healthier the economy, the healthier the person: People in distressed communities die five years earlier, according to the research.

If we care about our long term financial sustainability and the prospects for our children, we need to figure out a plan to be competitive with other healthy regions.

It’s not about chasing Amazon (good luck with that one) or waving incentives at companies—it’s about leveraging our strengths, improving our schools, nurturing entrepreneurs (economic gardening) working with universities, increasing quality housing that is affordable and building an inclusive community open to ideas, innovation and creativity.




LA Story

The Salt and The Straw in Larchmont Village

The Salt and The Straw in Larchmont Village

Greetings from Los Angeles.
I’m out here with our west coast Tabanero team interviewing agencies for what will become our first major advertising effort in 2017.
It’s the next step in our start up entrepreneurial journey and it’s exciting.
We’ve done billboards, print ads, Amazon promotions, events, samplings, coupons and social media advertising along the way, but the new effort will represent our first large scale–for us anyway –advertising campaign.
It’s exciting and a little scary too. This is our shot and while we’re confident we’ve got a great hot sauce and Bloody Mary mix we are all veterans in business. We know it’s not easy and that there’s no shortcuts. We have great assets: a great tasting premium sauce and some excellent retailers and some challenges too: a crowded category and a need for more brand awareness. We are a challenger brand in a world of Goliaths. But we see that as our advantage because we live in a world where consumers want new and exciting over old and tired.
We’ll keep you posted.
Some impressions about LA: I love it.
Yes,  there’s traffic and sprawl. Crazy traffic and debilitating sprawl.
But there’s also great weather, very interesting people and this is where you can see the future emerge.
LA and NYC are where trends are birthed and spread.
So when I come here I like to look around. What are the new restaurant concepts? What are the new items on menus? What are the new drink trends?
What’s happening in retail, hotels, fashion and design?
It’s interesting for me to see what’s happening and what people are talking about. Information is currency. And you never know what insight you might glean that can help you in whatever business you’re in.
The same principle applies to cities.
Switched on municipal leaders are always scanning the horizon for ideas that can be customized for their communities.
Whether it’s street furniture or pop up retail, unique crosswalks or parking technology it pays to see what others are doing.
When I venture west I stay in the Hotel Orlando a very comfy boutique hotel.
It’s amazing how boutique and historic hotels and inns have become focal points for cities and neighborhoods.
A few great little hotels mixed in with restaurants, art and event spaces can literally make a place pop.
On this trip I’m anxious to see creative work spaces. One agency we interviewed is housed in an old industrial space that has been converted into one of the nicest offices I have ever seen.
Wide open, with exposed ceilings and fun games and furniture, the space is just inspiring.
I also loved that the office featured a slew of dogs. It was comfortable but productive.
Count me in as someone who would love to work alongside dogs, mine and others.

West Hollywood where I’m anchored is a cool spot.
Since I can never adjust to the time, I find myself up early and able to take walks before a day of meetings.
I stumbled on a neighborhood featuring very old but beautifully designed apartments I later learned were designed by legendary architect Leland Bryant in the 20s and 30s for movie studio personnel.
The craftsmanship, details, bay windows and unique design are stunning. It made me wonder whether these types of artisans exist today or whether developers would even consider these types of details given the high cost of land and the regulatory hurdles we’ve instituted.
Curious I did some light research on Bryant who turned out to be quite the guy. I learned that he built 300 projects in Los Angeles and Hollywood in the time it would take to get one or two projects approved and built today considering rules and politics.
None of his iconic and beautiful projects would meet today’s codes despite their enduring beauty and value. Now that’s food for thought.
I’ve often wondered in our zeal to “control growth” with rigid codes and batty politics whether we are also stifling creativity. While developers and architects bear their fair share of responsibility wouldn’t it be interesting to challenge them to be creative and design something that generations might embrace rather than fight. Heavy sigh.
Leland Bryant would be dead in his tracks today.

Another observation…
As mentioned, California is a great place to search for trends.
Food and restaurants have come a long way in the last decade.
It seems like every industry and option are being disrupted by innovative artisans.
California is teeming with them.
From cold pressed juices and craft burgers to artisanal sandwiches (I kid you not) California has it all.
Sure some ideas are hipster pretentious, but others are just flat out inspiring.
A marketing firm we use out here recommended we visit a small ice cream shop called the Salt & Straw to sample various interesting flavor combinations. We did.
Aside from seasonal offerings like fennel eggnog there were options that included olives and sea salt and goat cheese.
Somehow it works. The ice cream was amazing.
My California colleague, a native Floridian, said the creativity he found in the Golden State keeps him here despite the high cost of living, heavy taxes and traffic.
“California is where the creators come to innovate,” he said. “It’s aspirational. Not every one makes it here. It’s hard and the competition is fierce but it’s where you come if you want to make an impact.” As they say if you want to dance you go where the music is playing.
Can Florida make the same claim?
I have to ponder that one. But if the answer is no it ought to be yes.
The places that empower people and inspire dreams and risk taking are the ones that will thrive.
I found Delray to be highly aspirational when I came here. I think Boca is a city coming into its own these days. As a friend recently told me about Boca: “that city has depth.”
By that he meant assets.
He’s right.
Delray has assets too, but there needs to be greater attention paid to ensure that those assets stay healthy and new assets need to be developed.
More on that when I come home.

25 Ideas Revisited


Editor’s note:

Four years ago—the same length as a presidential term—we wrote a blog outlining 25 ideas for Delray Beach.

We thought it would be fun to take a look back and comment on whether these ideas still make sense or whether any of them actually happened.

25 Ideas …2012 edition

  1. Brand Delray Beach as a mecca for entrepreneurs—Comment: Still makes sense and still a work in progress. Various efforts have been tried and traction has been difficult to achieve. The lack of affordable creative space downtown is a barrier, but efforts such as the co-working space “The Kitchn” are promising. Much more needs to be done and can be done.
  2. To accomplish the above, create a business incubator downtown and invite entrepreneurs to grow in Delray. Comment: There’s potential at the Old School Square Garage to do something facing the park and at the Arts Warehouse, but this idea remains incomplete.
  3. Create a business accelerator in Delray so that once companies are incubated they have someplace to go for the extra needed help. Comment: Incomplete.
  4. Help existing businesses and individuals grow by offering classes and low or no-cost business advice at our own Old School Square. Comment: Lynn University has been scouting locations downtown to offer classes; the Small Business Development Center is active at the Delray Library and it was great to see Code Fever at the chamber recently.
  5. Speaking of Old School Square, offer executive education, certificate and graduate programs in the classrooms; revenue for Old School Square and another tool for economic development. Comment: Incomplete.
  6. Program the Old School Square Park—add shade, music and a few tasteful vendors. Comment: After a series of charrettes and private efforts, a vision is beginning to take shape. But it has been 11 years since voters passed a bond creating the park and creating a vibrant downtown “central” park remains incomplete. Lately, some have complained about vagrancy at the park. And the process to design a park has been fraught. It ought to be exciting.
  7. At holiday time, create a holiday village at the Old School Square park and allow kiosks and “pop-up” stores to capture crowds heading to the 100 foot tree. Give local retailers a free or reduced stall and charge others for the month—use funds to offset holiday costs. Comment: Didn’t happen.
  8. Creatively partner with various private entities to bring “fantasy sports camps” to Delray. Tourists could come to Delray to play with their childhood heroes and enjoy the downtown after the game is over. Comment: Didn’t happen.

9 .Install LED lighting in parking lots and parking garages. It’s green and it saves money. Comment: New LED street lights are brightening a six-block section of West Atlantic Avenue, thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy totaling nearly $111,000. Efforts appear to be underway.

  1. Create a leadership academy to train the next generation of local leaders. Teach the Delray success story. Comment: The Chamber launched a civic engagement academy earlier this year that was well attended. There are plans to do more.
  2. Create a local Business Development Corporation enabling local residents to buy “shares” in local businesses and invest in growing our own economy. Comment: Not done.
  3. Reinvigorate the Southwest Plan by borrowing a page from Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Empowerment Zone playbook. Seek foundation monies to move beyond infrastructure to developing Delray’s vast human capital. Comment: Various charitable efforts including Delray Students First have embraced the mission of developing Human Capital, but robust financial support remains elusive.
  4. Arm the economic development director with a reasonable budget to market Delray. We have to get in the game and that takes marketing and resources. Comment: Not done.
  5. Public Relations. Delray needs a publicity strategy outside the local publications to attract investment and build awareness of our assets and opportunities. After all, we are the jewel of Palm Beach County. Comment: Not done, the Delray Marketing Cooperative has done a good job on the events front, but PR regarding economic development has been spotty. There were some good articles on downtown development in the South Florida Business Journal and on the efforts of the Congress Avenue Task Force in the Sun Sentinel but creating national buzz around business and investment remains to be seen. There have been good articles in national and regional publications relating to downtown redevelopment, dining, tourism, events, real estate and lifestyle.
  6. Link the new Arts Warehouse to a broader strategy to create an artists and artisans “village within a village” in the Third Avenue area. Comment: Artists Alley has been threatened by increasing prices and gentrification and the Arts Warehouse is still not open.
  7. Help Delray’s Prep and Sports develop a national reputation for elite football training and make the 7 on 7 event one of the premier tournaments in the USA. Comment: Prep and Sports founder T.J. Jackson has gone on to become the head football coach at Atlantic High.
  8. Convene an economic development charrette to discuss our fiscal future and job creation—let the community decide the priorities and tie our spending to those priorities. Comment: 2017 should see a discussion of economic development as a key component of the city’s comprehensive plan. The Chamber is considering a similar conversation.
  9. Team up with our neighbors Boca Raton and Boynton wherever possible: city services, economic development, marketing to save money and leverage our strengths. Comment: hard to do.
  10. Get serious about jumpstarting investment on Congress Avenue. The vision and zoning is in place, what’s needed is execution and beautification. Comment: A task force spent 10 months updating the plan and adding exciting new elements. Plan was submitted in February and was accepted in August, but not formally adopted. Code has yet to be updated and the city is considering hiring a consultant. Meanwhile, the corridor has attracted a few deals: Kaufman & Lynn, Call 4 Health and there is activity on the old Office Depot site and Saltwater Brewery. However, concern lingers that new projects will be forced to “spot zone” since the plan is not yet in place.
  11. Add a Middle School of the Arts at Carver Middle School and tie it into all of our arts activities from Old School Square to the Creative City Collaborative to the new Plumosa School of the Arts. Comment: Talk has died down regarding Carver. But the district has a plan to build a long coveted middle school of the arts on the site of the old Atlantic High School.
  12. Bring a branch of a university downtown and one to Congress Avenue. Comment: remains to be done. Lynn U has plans for a presence.
  13. Revisit the North Federal Highway Plan and come up with a new vision for the 21st Century. Comment: remains to be done. South Federal is being looked at; that’s a good thing.
  14. Host a competition and have our local techies develop some interesting local apps. Comment: remains to be done. Tallahassee recently did this exercise and ended up with some amazing ideas.
  15. Develop a formal, aggressive and powerful Shop Local Campaign. Comment: there have been great efforts but a strong lasting branded campaign remains an opportunity.
  16. Add entrepreneurship academies to Atlantic High and Village Academy. Comment: remains to be done.

We Stand For What We Tolerate


Politics on the national level has become a cesspool.

Not a locker room—a cesspool: defined as a foul and putrid place.

Mean, disrespectful, devoid of truth and full of anger, vitriol and hatred.

And once the invective is spread into the atmosphere and billions of dollars are spent, guess what? Not much happens.

Very few problems are solved.

Very few opportunities are seized.

And that, my friends is where the source of anger and frustration resides.

Washington long ago lost the plot. The whole concept of helping people and building a great nation has been overwhelmed by obstruction, intransigence and an inability to get anything done.

It has become a cycle of pathology and it’s boiling over and threatening the greatest nation in the history of the world.

You’d think with all the Ivy League degrees and privileged pedigrees that run around Washington that the political class might just figure things out.

The Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump—all are reactions to problems left unaddressed and political dysfunction. People are angry and they have every right to be.

I no longer have small children, but I don’t think I would have let them watch the debate last week if I did.

This is not a slam on Trump or on Hillary—because their candidacies are merely symptoms. There would be no room for a brash maverick to come to our rescue if Congress was taking care of business. And if you think Hillary is a horrible human being–fine– but then shouldn’t we wonder why our best and our brightest aren’t attracted to politics anymore?

Why has politics become a dirty word? Why has compromise become a sign of weakness? Why is civility and respect no longer demanded or respected of people who seek the highest office in the land? Or any office for that matter?

Shouldn’t politics be a form of public service? After all, the definition of politics is: “the theory and practice of government, especially the activities associated with governing, with obtaining legislative or executive power, or with forming and running organizations connected with government.”

Therefore, a good politician is someone skilled in the practice of government; someone who can get results hopefully those that help our nation. We need more good politicians. The ones we have are lousy.

But we have demonized the word politician and yet we scratch our head when demons seek power.

Our politics have become so toxic that they actually cause stress and anxiety.

Time magazine and The Atlantic recently devoted entire pieces to the topic recently.

From The Atlantic:

Stephen Holland has practiced clinical psychology for more than a quarter century. He has done so in Washington, D.C., for more than two decades. He has never seen an election like this one.

“I’d say probably two-thirds to three-quarters of our patients are mentioning their feelings about the election in session,” he said.

So it is, perhaps, with every election. Robert Leahy, director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy, said that therapist appointments anecdotally rise every election season. But 2016 seems to be something else entirely. “

Wouldn’t it be nice if elections were inspiring rather than dreadful?

This is the first election that my son, a recent college graduate, has focused on intensely. What he has seen scares him and he’s worried about his future as a result. My take: it may get so bad that we will have no choice but to fix Washington. But it seems we are still in the throes of a hissy fit and so solutions won’t happen until it gets so bad we won’t be able to stand it anymore.

Meanwhile, I think the best place to innovate and solve problems is at the local level.

So counties and cities that have their act together can make positive things happen in areas of importance to people: education, job creation, quality of place, public safety, transportation the environment etc.

This week, the Knight Foundation opened up its latest funding round called the “Knight Challenge for Cities” seeking to provide grants to cities that concentrate on the three areas the foundation sees as essential drivers for success: attracting and keeping talent, expanding economic opportunity, and creating a culture of civic engagement.

It’s an interesting list and one backed by studies done by the foundation and other researchers. But the nature of those drivers is distinctly local.

So there is great hope for cities—but that’s accompanied by a big ‘if.’

Local politics is not immune from the cesspool and toxicity. And on a local level– where you bump into combatants at Publix and downtown—it can get personal and nasty in a hurry.

I have been following local politics for 30 years. I remember when local campaigns got by on shoe string budgets and when volunteers filled envelopes with mail pieces that actually contained ideas and position statements.

I keep a pile of recent campaign mail on a credenza near my desk. I don’t look at it every day, but it’s there as a reminder for me and for visitors who sometimes drop by to talk local politics.

If you didn’t know anything about Delray and were just handed the pile you would think the city was war torn Beirut not a municipal success story that went from blighted to national recognition.

But in recent cycles big bucks have been spent trashing candidates and the city itself.

Years ago, every negative candidate who ran against the city and against progress, got whupped.

These days it’s a race to the bottom with voters (who are vanishing despite a growing population) forced to choose between negative candidates. Ugh.

And shame on the candidates for signing off on that crap.

But most of all, shame on us for tolerating it.

Want better candidates and better debates—demand it.

Hold elected officials accountable and support those who have ideas, experience and passion for the community. You may actually find a few if you create a culture that would encourage those types of people to run.

I hear from scores of people unhappy with the local political scene. They should be, because it’s sorely lacking.

But there are plenty of really good people around who would make fine elected officials; they just aren’t running because of the toxicity. The best and brightest don’t need it—they have other ways to spend their valuable time.

But when you get a gem, someone brave enough to enter the arena with ideas, compassion, vision, courage, kindness and strength make sure you support and protect them. Stand up to the negativity and the trolls and you might just see a better culture take shape and with it more quality candidates.

Sadly, we may not be able to fix Washington all that easily. But we can always fix the home front, but only if we choose to do so.







Innovation Districts: A Recipe

5,500 square feet of magic in Eugene.

5,500 square feet of magic in Eugene.

“Innovation districts embody the very essence of cities: an aggregation of talented, driven people, assembled in close quarters, who exchange ideas and knowledge in what urban historians call a “dynamic process of innovation, imitation, and improvement.” –Peter Hall, Cities in Civilization: Culture, Innovation, and Urban Order


Boca Raton and Delray Beach have long championed the idea of creating “innovation districts”, a term we hear about often but probably never slow down enough to define.

Over the years, there has been a desire to attract the “creative class” to downtown Delray Beach, build on Boca’s rich history in medicine, education and technology (MedUTech) and create an innovation district along Congress Avenue. FAU’s Research Park has achieved enviable success and now FAU’s Tech Runway has a great opportunity to serve as a catalyst for creating an entrepreneurial ecosystem.

There are also several examples of co-working and incubator space in both Boca and Delray.

A recent white paper by the Brookings Institution has gotten a lot of traction among policymakers interested in Innovation Districts. Perhaps one of the best things it produced was a simple definition of the term: geographic areas with synergistic relationships among people, firms and places, allowing ideas to be generated and commercialized. These districts are also physically compact, transit-accessible, technically-wired and offer mix of uses: housing, office, and retail.

Bruce Katz and Julie Wagner of Brookings describe innovation districts as requiring entrepreneurs, educational institutions, start-ups, affordable housing and other urban amenities that are connected by transit and high-speed Internet.

Among the primary market forces driving innovation districts are private firms and universities seeking to be more efficient at innovation. The model that originated in Silicon Valley–where firms acted independently and were isolated on a campus or an industrial park–appears to be no longer in vogue. It is more effective to be located in places where people bump into each other by happenstance — at the office, in the coffee shop, at a music venue or at dinner. Ideas are shared at the office and away from the office, leading to more ideas and more innovation. This is a sea change from the model of the past 50 years where innovation happened in suburban office parks—accessible only by car. In that model, little to no thought was given to integrating work, housing and recreation. Today, companies and their workers see quality of life as a pathway to productivity and innovative breakthroughs.

A trend that is simultaneously strengthening innovation districts is millennials’ preference for urban living. According to the Council of Economic Advisors, 73 percent of college-educated 25- to 34-year-olds were living in large or mid-sized cities in 2011, compared to 67 percent in 1980.

Primary drivers of this trend are the neighborhood-building amenities that a vibrant city offers.

Essential to the success of innovation districts are what are called “innovation cultivators,” which support the growth of individuals, firms and their ideas.

Experts are pointing to downtown Eugene, Oregon as a good model for an emerging innovation district. Eugene offers lessons that may be useful for Boca and Delray.

In downtown Eugene, innovation cultivators include Fertilab, which focuses on incubating early-stage entrepreneurship; RAIN, which helps new business ideas accelerate to market; and the Technology Association of Oregon, which focuses on inputs to growth for tech companies including high speed internet infrastructure, access to talent, and community events like Hack for a Cause. All of these organizations now have offices that are within walking distance of each other.

“The trend is to nurture living, breathing communities rather than sterile remote, compounds of research silos,” said Pete Engardio in a recent article entitled “Research Parks for the Knowledge Economy,” that ran in Bloomberg Businessweek.

Says Brookings: “Innovation districts have the unique potential to spur productive, inclusive and sustainable economic development. At a time of sluggish growth, they provide a strong foundation for the creation and expansion of firms and jobs by helping companies, entrepreneurs, universities, researchers and investors—across sectors and disciplines—co-invent and co-produce new discoveries for the market. At a time of rising social inequality, they offer the prospect of expanding employment and educational opportunities for disadvantaged populations given that many districts are close to low- and moderate-income neighborhoods. And, at a time of inefficient land use, extensive sprawl and continued environmental degradation, they present the potential for denser residential and employment patterns, the leveraging of mass transit, and the repopulation of urban cores.”

So what’s the formula and do we have what it takes?

Brookings lists the following assets as key components:

Economic Assets are the firms, institutions and organizations that drive, cultivate or support an innovation-rich environment. Economic assets can be separated into three categories: Innovation drivers are the research and medical institutions, the large firms, start-ups and entrepreneurs focused on developing cutting-edge technologies, products and services for the market. Innovation cultivators are the companies, organizations or groups that support the growth of individuals, firms and their ideas. They include incubators, accelerators, proof-of-concept centers, tech transfer offices, shared working spaces and local high schools, job training firms and community colleges advancing specific skill sets for the innovation-driven economy.

Neighborhood-building amenities provide important support services to residents and workers in the district. This ranges from medical offices to grocery stores, restaurants, coffee bars, small hotels and local retail (such as bookstores, clothing stores and sport shops).

Physical assets are the public and privately-owned spaces—buildings, open spaces, streets and other infrastructure—designed and organized to stimulate new and higher levels of connectivity, collaboration and innovation. Physical assets can also be divided into three categories: Physical assets in the public realm are the spaces accessible to the public, such as parks, plazas and streets that become locales of energy and activity. In innovation districts, public places are created or re-configured to be digitally-accessible (with high speed internet, wireless networks, computers and digital displays embedded into spaces) and to encourage networking (where spaces encourage “people to crash into one another”). Streets can also be transformed into living labs to flexibly test new innovations, such as in street lighting, waste collection, traffic management solutions and new digital technologies.

Physical assets in the private realm are privately-owned buildings and spaces that stimulate innovation in new and creative ways. Office developments are increasingly configured with shared work and lab spaces and smaller, more affordable areas for start-ups. A new form of micro-housing is also emerging, with smaller private apartments that have access to larger public spaces, such as co-working areas, entertainment spaces and common eating areas.


Physical assets that knit the district together and/or tie it to the broader metropolis are investments aimed to enhance relationship-building and connectivity. For some districts, knitting together the physical fabric requires remaking the campuses of advanced research institutions to remove fences, walls and other barriers and replace them with connecting elements such as bike paths, sidewalks, pedestrian-oriented streets and activated public spaces. Strategies to strengthen connectivity between the district, adjoining neighborhoods and the broader metropolis include infrastructure investments, such as broadband, transit and road improvements.


Networking assets are the relationships between actors—such as individuals, firms and institutions—that have the potential to generate, sharpen and accelerate the advancement of ideas.

Networks fuel innovation because they strengthen trust and collaboration within and across companies and industry clusters, provide information for new discoveries and help firms acquire resources and enter new markets.

Networks are generally described as either having strong ties or weak ties.

If you tally these assets up, Boca and Delray are positioned to have successful innovation districts.

Many of the principles outlined by Brookings, were incorporated in a recent task force effort to jumpstart Congress Avenue in Boca.

Lynn University, FAU, FAU Research Park, the Boca and Delray Chambers of Commerce, local hospitals and research facilities and private incubators and co-working spaces are all elements for success.

What’s missing in my view are stronger ties, a need for more events, a lack of venture, seed and angel capital (but some bright spots are emerging) and more media attention to build the area’s reputation.

Possible headwinds also include a lack of imagination with some, Ok maybe most—but not all– new development—i.e. the same old, high end condo’s and sprawl in the Ag Reserve—and not enough political vision to push and incent developers to create something new, different, cool and forward thinking. There is a need for creative space in both cities. NIMBYism is another threat; we have to be forward thinking and ensure that our downtowns evolve beyond food and beverage.

Still, our quality of life, proximity to key markets, universities, recreation, cultural amenities etc., are awfully compelling. Yes, we can make this happen. The ingredients are there and abundant.

 How to make it happen:

Practitioners in leading edge innovation districts offer five pieces of advice:


First, build a collaborative leadership network, a collection of leaders from key institutions, firms and sectors who regularly and formally cooperate on the design, delivery, marketing and governance of the district. In advanced innovation districts in Barcelona, Eindhoven, St Louis and Stockholm, leaders found the Triple Helix model of governance to be fundamental to their success. The Triple Helix consists of structured interactions between industry, research universities, and government.

Second, set a vision for growth by providing actionable guidance for how an innovation district should grow and develop in the short-, medium- and long-term along economic, physical and social dimensions. Most practitioners cite the importance of developing a vision to leverage their unique strengths—distinct economic clusters, leading local and regional institutions and companies, physical location and design advantages and other cultural attributes.

Third, pursue talent and technology given that educated and skilled workers and sophisticated infrastructure and systems are the twin drivers of innovation. Pursuing talent requires attraction, retention and growth strategies; integrating technology requires a commitment to top notch fiber optics (and, in some places, specialized laboratory facilities) to create a high quality platform for innovative firms.

Fourth, promote inclusive growth by using the innovation district as a platform to regenerate adjoining distressed neighborhoods as well as creating educational, employment and other opportunities for low-income residents of the city. Strategies in places as disparate as Barcelona, Detroit and Philadelphia have particularly focused on equipping workers with the skills they need to participate in the innovation economy or other secondary and tertiary jobs generated by innovative growth.

Finally, enhance access to capital to support basic science and applied research; the commercialization of innovation; entrepreneurial start-ups and expansion (including business incubators and accelerators); urban residential, industrial and commercial real estate (including new collaborative spaces); place-based infrastructure (e.g., energy, utilities, broadband, and transportation); education and training facilities; and intermediaries to steward the innovation ecosystem. Districts in Cambridge, Detroit and St. Louis have successfully re-deployed local capital to meet these needs.


Water Cooler Wednesday: Warren & Charlie’s Wisdom

When Charlie Munger speaks smart people listen.

When Charlie Munger speaks smart people listen.

Charlie Munger may be the coolest 90-year-old on the planet.

He’s certainly among the savviest investors of his or possibly any other age.

His partner is a gentleman named Warren Buffett and together Warren and Charlie have built Berkshire Hathaway into a colossus.

Last I checked, a single share of Berkshire was trading at nearly $210,000—that is not a typo.

The market share is over $330 billion, more than GE, way, way more.

So when Charlie talks—which is rare—people listen.

So last week, when he spoke at a meeting at a tiny legal publishing firm owned by Berkshire, people flocked from all over to hear him speak.

What they heard was pure wisdom, delivered with a huge dose of humor.

I didn’t go to the event and sadly I am still saving up to buy a single share.

But I did catch the coverage of the talk in the Wall Street Journal and one Charlie statement jumped off the page and struck me.

Next year, Warren and Charlie will be celebrating their 50th anniversary together at Berkshire. To honor their golden anniversary, Warren asked Charlie to ponder two questions: “Why did it work? And will it continue?”

Simple questions– on the surface at least –until you start to think about them and realize how deeply you have to delve to figure out why something was successful.

Since this blog is about Delray and Boca, I thought about Warren’s questions and how we might answer them.

So why did Delray and Boca work?
I think we can agree that while both cities are not perfect and must grapple with serious issues, for the most part fair minded people would characterize them as successful cities.

Boca has a famous brand name and is known for its great schools, superior parks, booming economy and manicured neighborhoods. I could go on.

Delray is known for its rocking downtown and its beautiful beach. It also has some interesting cultural assets as does Boca.

But those are symptoms, indicators, outcomes that don’t really answer why these cities have worked? They also aren’t guaranteed to continue, which is interesting to think about because it points out the fact that nothing is permanent. Success is not permanent, and happily neither is failure.

Downtowns can dry up. Big employers can move in and move out. Natural disasters can do damage and great schools can suffer if you take your eye off the blackboard.

So again, why did it work?
Let’s take a look at Delray first.

I think Delray worked because the city was entrepreneurial when it needed to be.

I recently had lunch with a former veteran department head, one in a series of thought provoking lunches that I have come to look forward too. We spoke about how Delray was focused on outcomes more so than process.

The leadership tasked city staff with getting things done (legally and morally of course) which allowed for some creativity and innovation on the staff level.

The results were dramatic: the city came a long way and went from Dull Ray to Delray over a two decade period of time. Problems were solved, solutions were shared and the city earned a reputation for innovation and a style that some called the “Delray way.”

There’s a lot of upside to focusing on outcomes. But there are some downsides as well.

When process is sacrificed, it can sometimes stray a little too far (for instance, you need to bid contracts, you should always engage the public and even flexible zoning should have limits).  So yes, cities and businesses need process, but not at the expense of creativity, fairness and predictability. City planning is more art than science; which is why it was genius in Delray to have something called “conditional use.”

Conditional use has been demonized and misunderstood over the years. It’s been lumped in with waivers and variances and all those other loaded terms, but in reality conditional use is a tool that allows developers (another loaded term) to get something if they give something. As a policymaker, I loved it. Why? Because it allowed us to make good projects happen and it allowed us to kill bad projects.

I liked having that flexibility.

Conditional use was one of the reasons why it happened, Mr. Munger.

I can’t be as opinionated about Boca, I don’t know that city as well. So I would invite readers to opine. But my guess is that Boca placed a high value on business and quality of life, as evidenced by a magnificent parks system, funded in part by a tax district.

As for whether it will continue, that’s up to us and who we elect to lead us.

Stray too far from the winning formula and it probably won’t continue. There are all sorts of examples of places that boomed and then went bust. But if you refuse to innovate and acknowledge change, you’re also dooming yourself.

Regardless, Warren’s questions of his partner Charlie are queries we all should ponder.