Last year, the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County Inc. facilitated 20 projects that created/retained 3,820 jobs in Palm Beach County. Directed by President and CEO Kelly Smallridge, the board was able to secure the relocation of Cancer Treatment Centers of America from Schaumburg, Illinois, to Boca Raton with 225 new employees; Pratt & Whitney’s expansion into the commercial jet engine business with a new 90,000-square-foot facility; and the Office Depot/OfficeMax merger.
Smallridge, who has led the board since 2004, spoke with Smart Business on how the BDB has become one of the highest performing economic development entities in Florida.
Q: What kinds of businesses have announced they will relocate to Palm Beach County and are bringing new jobs with them?
A: We have a strategic approach to relocating companies. We go after aviation/aerospace, business/financial services, communications/technology, life sciences, logistics/distribution and corporate headquarters. These are the types of industries showing the greatest level of interest in our county.
The most recent trend over the last three years has been the departure of companies from the Northeast to Palm Beach County. These companies fall in the hedge fund, private equity and wealth management industries. Most require 7,000 to 10,000 square feet of space and prefer water views with amenities of a Class A building. We refer to this as the ‘Wall Street South’ phenomenon.
Q: What factors have new businesses cited as making Palm Beach County attractive?
A: Quality of life is at the top of the list along with affordability and accessibility. With three airports and seaports, the county is convenient to travel and shipping products nationally and internationally. The county offers affordable commercial space for light industrial facilities or corporate offices.
Educational institutions grades K-12 along with colleges and universities work closely with the business community to ensure a skilled workforce is available. Palm Beach County boasts some of the finest recreational and cultural amenities as well.
Q: How much does infrastructure and convenient location play a part in relocation decisions? How about a business friendly climate?
A: County elected officials warmly embrace economic development and have created business friendly policies such as expedited permitting, loan programs and incentives to attract and retain industry in Palm Beach County. The convenient access to Interstate 95, Florida’s Turnpike, Beeline Highway, airports and ports are all necessary infrastructure assets that attract quality employers.
Q: How have you expanded your work with city leaders?
A: We have created an Economic Development Stakeholders Council where each city has a seat at the table to discuss programs that will help make our cities and counties more competitive. The BDB hosts these quarterly meetings to stay in touch with our cities and to provide resources. We also teach an Economic Development 101 course for newly elected officials on the importance of creating jobs and recruiting and retaining employers. We meet one-on-one with the cities as we facilitate various relocations and expansions.
Q: How do you continue to build a strong economic development team?
A: The key is training the team to provide the highest level of customer services for all economic development projects interested in moving or growing here. We spend a tremendous amount of time educating our employees on initiatives, issues and development in the county so that we are knowledgeable.
The majority of our employees have been with the organization an average of eight to 10 years which means there is a large amount of institutional knowledge at the BDB. We are also extremely nimble and creative, which is rare in a quasi-governmental organization. Our internal culture is dynamic, aggressive, open-minded and entrepreneurial.
How to reach: Business Development Board of Palm Beach County Inc., (561) 835-1008 or www.bdb.org