Spotlight On: Kevin Rogers, Regional President, Seaside National Bank & Trust

Spotlight On: Kevin Rogers, Regional President, Seaside National Bank & Trust

By Max Crampton-Thomas

2 min read October 2019 — Seaside National Bank & Trust may be considered a newer entry into the market, having first opened its doors in 2006, but since then it has become a prominent force in the banking community. Invest: Greater Fort Lauderdale recently spoke with Kevin Rogers, the regional president of Seaside National Bank & Trust’s South Florida operations. During the discussion, he spoke on the importance of cybersecurity to a bank like Seaside, how Seaside handles the challenge of competition in South Florida and his approach to finding the right employee candidates. 

How are you protecting your clients in regards to cybersecurity? 

Cybersecurity is a huge topic, not only at our bank, but also across the financial services industry. We tell our people all the time that we’re a small bank, and if we took a $2 million to $3 million hit it would substantially hurt us. Our people are on guard every minute. We have an incredible onboarding process, and we not only know who we’re banking with, but we also know who are clients are dealing with as well. If you ask what keeps me up at night more so than hitting balance sheet goals, it’s cybersecurity and being hit with a loss.

The amount of money that the bank spends on cybersecurity is incredible, but you have to stay ahead of the game. We conduct a lot of training on the subject. I even do a communication call twice a month with our South Florida employees, and one of the main topics is cybersecurity. We want to make sure that everybody is on guard, that they know who their clients are and that they’re asking the right questions. You have to ask the tough questions to make sure you protect the bank.

 

What is the biggest challenge in the market for a small to midsize bank like Seaside, and how do you overcome it?

I think the biggest challenge is always going to be the competition. Banks of our size do not have the brand recognition that a Bank of America does, so the question is how do we sell Seaside Bank? We have to go out and talk to our clients about who we are and what we specialize in. We drive home the fact that we are able to provide the same products and services that the big banks do but in a community bank setting. We’ve taken a lot of clients away from these big banks. If you look at what’s going on in the big banks right now, it’s all about sales process management and managing their people to numbers that, a lot of the time, mean selling products and services that the clients really don’t need. We don’t subscribe to this notion and instead focus more on listening to our clients and making sure that they get what they want and need. We’re not for everybody; there will never be a time when you’ll see a Seaside branch on every street corner like you do Bank of America. If a customer is looking for that then we’re not the bank for them. If they’re looking for a single point of contact to deal with on a consistent basis then we are a perfect bank for them.

 

How difficult is it to find professional, hard-working talent in the Palm Beach County market? 

It is very hard, and I find that I’m always looking for people. I’m constantly asked the question when I’m out at a meeting or at a networking event, “Are you looking for bankers?” I always say, “I’m never looking, but I’m always looking” because I’m trying to find the right person who will fit into our culture. 

It’s also very hard to recruit a good banker who is working at a big bank because they already have an established book of business and a continuous flow of referrals. At a smaller bank like ours we don’t have that, and you have to be an aggressive calling officer and business developer to be able to be successful here. We have to be careful about whom we hire because we don’t want to set anybody up to fail. Some of the best people I’ve recruited are from big banks and who want to try something else because they’re at a  time in their lives when they want to scale down. A smaller bank like ours is attractive to these people because of our incentive plan and how we operate.

To learn more about our interviewee visit: 

https://www.seasidebank.com/

How Broward is Solving its Transportation Troubles

How Broward is Solving its Transportation Troubles

By Max Crampton-Thomas

4 min read October 2019 —  For over a century, the car has been America’s top transportation choice when getting from point A to point B. As the population in the United States has grown exponentially year over year, so has the dependency on these vehicles, which has led to worsening transportation issues like congested roads, air pollution, traffic accidents and in some cases fatalities. Throughout South Florida, in this case Broward County, the negative effects of the population’s dependency on single-occupancy vehicles are rampant throughout the region. While these issues pose a major challenge to Broward, there is hope as the younger generations are looking to avoid the stress of car ownership, and many community leaders and organizations are making a push toward better mass transit and alternative transportation options.

While these are not all new ideas, in the last couple of years the emphasis for Broward has become truly exploring and executing these ideas. This starts with the  30-year Penny For Transportation Surtax that was passed last November and is set to generate billions of dollars toward improving transportation and mass transit options throughout the county. Invest: recently spoke with Monica Cepero, deputy county administrator for Broward County, who discussed what the community could expect from the revenues generated by the tax. “This sales tax is set to generate about $16 billion over the next 30 years, and will be used in the more immediate future to improve and modernize public transit services. Our long-term plan for those funds is focused on creating connectivity, extending roadway capacities, multimodal improvements and improving transportation facilities and service.”

Invest: also spoke with Gregory Stuart, executive director of Broward MPO, about the near-term changes that could be expected from the revenues collected from the tax. “Realistically, the immediate changes aren’t going to result in construction; we are focusing on enhancing the traffic signalization program. This includes a coordination between the traffic lights, people’s vehicles and installing smart communication equipment. Another immediate change that has happened already but which we’re not going to notice for about another year, is the county transit agency’s purchase of another 130 buses. Considering they are operating a fleet of about 300 buses right now, this is a one-third expansion and a significant increase in the bus system,” he told Invest:

While the tax is going to be a huge benefit for transportation in the region, a change in mindset is another factor impacting how people get around. One option is the Tri-Rail, which is celebrating its 30th year servicing the South Florida community. Tri-Rail Executive Director Steven Abrams spoke about how it is benefiting from the changing mindset toward mass transit in the area. “South Florida is a tourist and service-related economy, and these individuals, like waiters or construction workers, cannot work from their homes. We have people coming from all over the world who are used to rail transportation in their countries, and they are feeding into our system. Our roads are also just becoming so congested. It used to be that our ridership would principally, and almost exclusively, fluctuate with gas prices, but now that  gas prices are stable and dropping, we still have people riding our system because ultimately it is the overabundance of cars on the road that is urging them to seek alternative transportation.”

Abrams also spoke to how Tri-Rail has improved and updated its operations over the years to encourage use by a larger population. “Over those 30 years, we have improved our service, added more trains, added weekend and holiday service and added connections to the three airports. We are a transportation system that has become popular over time and we have really embedded ourselves in the tri-county area.” 

The other popular train in South Florida is also the newest mass transit option for the region, Virgin Trains USA. Running through the three counties of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach, the train is looking toward the future by connecting the three counties with Orlando and an eventual Tampa Bay stop as well. 

Patrick Goddard, president for Virgin Trains USA, discussed with Invest: how it wants to be a catalyst for transit change in South Florida. “We are reinventing train travel in America, so there are always going to be challenges, but none that we have not been able to overcome so far. The advent of this project has awakened a desire and a curiosity within the municipalities to recognize the full potential for mass transit in South Florida. We are solving the challenge in Florida of medium-haul travel. Airlines take care of long trips, while rideshare, motorized scooters and buses take care of short ones. There has always been this gap with the 200- to 300-mile distances that are too short to fly and too long to drive. By introducing an option like this, it encourages people to leave their cars at home and start using a more environmentally sustainable means of transit.” 

A key factor in remaining economically sustainable is having good transportation and mass transit options. As Broward County continues to develop into an economic powerhouse so to must its transportation, and with changing mindsets and push from community leaders the future looks bright. 

To learn more about our interviewees, visit:

https://www.tri-rail.com/

http://www.browardmpo.org/

https://www.gobrightline.com/

https://www.broward.org/

Business is Booming for Deerfield Beach

Business is Booming for Deerfield Beach

By Max Crampton-Thomas

2 min read September 2019 — When discussing growth in Broward County, the conversation would typically center around the economic hub that is the city of Fort Lauderdale. While it may be the most universally recognized city in Broward, it is certainly not the only one in the county experiencing an economic boom.

Located at the northernmost point of Broward County is Deerfield Beach, a city whose growth cannot be understated or overlooked. Home to over 80,000 individuals, this beach community has capitalized on the economic prosperity and ever-increasing migration of individuals to the South Florida region. Invest: Greater Fort Lauderdale spoke with Bill Ganz, the mayor of Deerfield Beach about the city’s major developments in the last year. “We have had a lot of growth in the city in the last 12 months, including over 11,000 building permits that total nearly a billion dollars in new construction. We have new residential developments under construction from some of the top developers in the area, such as Lennar, Toll Brothers, Ram Realty and Weingarten Realty. One of the finest organizations in Broward County is also located in our city, JM Family Enterprises. They are working on a $176 million expansion of their corporate headquarters,” he told Invest:. 

The growth of Deerfield has not just been predicated on the development of new construction projects for the private sector. The city has recognized the importance of reinvesting in itself to better serve its residents. This is apparent in the ongoing construction of a new 12,000-square-foot community center, which is a revitalization of the old Tigner Community Center. When completed, it will be one of the largest community centers in Deerfield Beach. 

Successful economic growth of an area in Broward County is also dependent on addressing future threats to that growth. Ganz made a point of talking to Invest: about how the city is addressing the looming threat of sea level rise and its efforts toward environmental resilience. “We have been working on these issues for several years, starting with the West Wellfield project, which helps to solidify the water system in Deerfield Beach, so we are much better protected against salt water intrusion. We have taken the initiative to become LEED certified with some of our city projects that have recently finished, including the new pier and facilities on the beach.” 

He continued to speak on how he hopes Deerfield will serve as a positive example on these issues for other areas of Broward County. “We have a new Siemens Energy Efficiency Program that we hope can be used as an example for other municipalities to address these issues. The city has also been working on an Emergency Preparedness and Response Plan. We don’t want to just talk about sea level rise, but really address it from a safety standpoint, especially in the event of another hurricane.” 

The advancement of Deerfield Beach has not been by chance, and can be attributed to well-thought-out and deliberate initiatives and actions taken by the city’s public and private sectors. There is a recognition that to sustain the economic growth, the city must continue to present unique opportunities to businesses in the area. 

One of the ways the city is doing this is by recognizing the need to retain a strong workforce within the city, as highlighted by Ganz: “We want to make sure that we provide them with a wide variety of opportunities, not just entertainment, but business opportunities as well. We also are trying to make sure that we are appealing to all generations of the workforce. One of the ways we hope to accomplish that is with some of the new residential construction that is being built. We have worked with these developers to make sure they are keeping the new buildings attractive to all segments of the workforce in the city. We are also fortunate to have the most beautiful beaches in all of Broward County, and these people can really take advantage of this being a nautical destination.” 

While it has been a successful year for the city, local government and the business community will continue to focus on sustaining this growth for the foreseeable future. 

To learn more about our interviewee, visit:

http://www.deerfield-beach.com

Spotlight On: Joseph Cox, President & CEO, Museum of Discovery and Science

Spotlight On: Joseph Cox, President & CEO, Museum of Discovery and Science

By Max Crampton-Thomas

2 min read September 2019 — To be considered a staple within the growing economic landscape of Broward County is no small accomplishment, especially as new options seem to become available to the public on a weekly basis. There has to be a real sense of connection and purpose formed with the public, as well as being an established economic driver, for a business or institution to achieve this status. Invest: Greater Fort Lauderdale had the opportunity to speak with Joseph Cox, the President & CEO of one of the staples of Broward County the Museum of Discovery and Science. Throughout the course of the discussion Mr. Cox made note of how the museum is working to address the lack of STEM workforce in Broward, how they are using new technology to their benefit, the counties support of institutions like the museum and the museum’s important role as an economic driver in the region.

How is the museum helping to address the lack of STEM workforce in Broward County? 

South Florida is powered by industries that thrive on a strong, vibrant STEM workforce. From aviation to tech, there is a unique voice in the local workforce of innovators, tinkerers and problem-solvers.  The Museum of Discovery & Science plays a crucial role in the community by introducing children of all ages to the exciting opportunities offered by careers in STEM. We recently opened The Leighton Family Hangar, our innovative Makerspace exhibit, a hands-on collaborative experience that fosters the learning of new skills, creating products and sharing ideas. Through partnerships with corporations, universities, technical colleges and, of course, our local school system, we will be offering an exciting range of programs and events that allow students to gain valuable skills for their future and ultimately our community’s future. The Hangar will inspire new generations to embrace the engineering design process as they develop, innovate and problem-solve.

 

How important is the adaptation of new technologies to a science museum?  

One of our goals at MODS is to connect people to inspiring science, and this includes state-of-the-art technology. Technology at the Museum is powered by our most vital resource: our staff and their creativity. Innovative technology is one of the tools our staff uses to help bring the exhibitions and programs to life. We are experimenting with the integration of augmented and mixed reality in exhibits and educational programs, as it truly is an opportunity to contribute to a new path of learning in museums. We are thrilled to have strong partnerships with Broward-based technology companies such as Citrix, Florida Power & Light and Magic Leap that allow us to drive innovation and technology forward in an accessible and meaningful way.

 

What is your view of the county’s support for arts and cultural institutions?

The Broward County Cultural Division clearly champions the arts in our community. The Cultural Division’s ongoing investment in cultural programming, public art and capital projects reflects the value attributed to the arts by the County.  We are fortunate to have an incredibly vibrant cultural community where collaboration is celebrated. The Museum considers the Cultural Division a partner as we work together to strengthen local cultural offerings, from exciting exhibits and award-winning education programs to breathtaking IMAX documentaries.

 

How is the museum an economic driver in the Broward County region? 

Beyond the cultural impact of the Museum, we also play a role in the local economy, with 150 employees and more than 400,000 visitors annually. A recent Americans for the Arts survey estimated our economic impact to be more than $22 million. The Museum purchases goods and services locally, hires and trains staff and supports many social service agencies with free and reduced admission. Whether having lunch in the neighborhood or traveling from out of town for the weekend, our visitors help drive the local economy and, with over 15% of our visitors coming from overseas, we are supporting the diverse offerings of our destination.

 

To learn more about our interviewee, visit:

https://mods.org/

Spotlight On: Rickelle Williams, Executive Director, Dania Beach Community Redevelopment Agency

Spotlight On: Rickelle Williams, Executive Director, Dania Beach Community Redevelopment Agency

By Max Crampton-Thomas

 

2 min read September 2019 — A community redevelopment agency’s main purpose is to encourage public and private investment into an area to help promote economic growth and improve the quality of life of residents. In a flourishing county like Broward, CRA’s play an important role in helping to grow the local economies and development activity throughout the region. A prime example is the Dania Beach Community Redevelopment Agency. Its work is helping to revitalize and redevelop the city of Dania Beach. Invest: Greater Fort Lauderdale had the opportunity to speak with Rickelle Williams, Executive Director for the Dania Beach CRA. Her passion for promoting and spearheading economic growth in Dania Beach was front and center during our conversation, in which she discussed the work the CRA is doing to promote this growth, the status of the new City Center initiative and how the CRA’s focus has broadened to include residential revitalization.

How is the CRA working to promote economic growth in Dania Beach? 

The CRA has been spearheading a rebranding initiative on behalf of the city of Dania Beach to promote economic growth. Last year, the city adopted a new logo and slogan: “Sea it. Live it. Love it.” We have been implementing the rebranding initiative through signage at our parks and in neighborhoods as well as through advertising, marketing and public relations. 

These are some of the methods we are using to get the Dania Beach brand out there and to let people know that if they have not discovered Dania Beach yet, now is a great time. To attract business, we promote our incentive programs, Opportunity Zones, and proximity to Port Everglades and Fort Lauderdale International Airport. In addition, the CRA produces an award-winning staple event going into its eighth year, the Dania Beach Arts and Seafood Celebration, recently drawing 19,000 people over a two-day weekend to one of our public parks. This free event is a way to bring people together for art, music, kids’ activities, and to showcase the quality of life in Dania Beach. We’ve also added a monthly street festival and art walk called Dania After Dark to add vibrant activity to our Downtown in preparation for our City Center Redevelopment initiative. 

How is the process going for the new City Center initiative? 

The Dania Beach Community Redevelopment Agency is leading a public-private partnership redevelopment initiative for Dania Beach City Hall, parking garage, library, and fire station as a new mixed-use City Center. The reconceived 6.5-acre site would provide an improved customer experience, a better working environment, needed housing, job creation, commercial and entertainment development, and stimulate a broader redevelopment of the city’s Downtown. We engaged FIU Metropolitan Center to research the city’s market capacity, engage the public in a discussion of possibilities and priorities and provide the city with an action agenda to move the City Center concept from idea to development. We later engaged with Colliers International South Florida through its government division to market the property and issue a request for proposals for parcels collectively appraised at $12.3 million. Three proposals were submitted and are under evaluation. 

How has the CRA’s focus changed or broadened over the last year? 

The CRA has traditionally focused on commercial investments and incentives, but for the first time we’ve incorporated residential revitalization into our cache of programs and initiatives. We started the At Home Dania Beach Program to make people feel at home in their community. This is a comprehensive approach to residential revitalization that encompasses several strategies. Those strategies include down-payment assistance, where we offer up to $20,000 to first-time homebuyers who meet our eligibility criteria. We are also developing single-family homes through our affordable housing development program. We have several homes that are in the development process, and we anticipate adding more homes in the coming months. We also provide a residential beautification grant where eligible homeowners can receive some financial help for landscaping or painting. When people recognize that there is an investment in the community, they take more pride in their homes and improve the quality of life and tax base. 

 

To learn more about our interviewee, visit:

http://www.daniabeachcra.org/

Face Off: Broward’s Construction Boom

Face Off: Broward’s Construction Boom

By Max Crampton-Thomas

 

4 min read September 2019 It seems like more cranes are dotting the downtown Fort Lauderdale skyline every week as new developments emerge from the ground at a record rate. Invest: Greater Fort Lauderdale recently had the opportunity to speak with two of the leading constructors in South Florida, Ryan Romanchuk, the Fort Lauderdale business unit leader for DPR Construction, and Brian Sudduth, the president of Miller Construction. The wide-ranging conversations touched on trends in the sector and how their companies are adapting to these, along with the challenges the industry faces.

What emerging trends are impacting the construction industry and how are you adapting to these?

Ryan Romanchuk: There is a strong movement toward prefabrication similar to what we’ve seen in other parts of the world outside of the United States. It is a movement to become smarter as an industry as our labor costs go up and we move more into a manufacturing environment. We are looking for different components that we can prefabricate off-site, which in turn helps to limit the amount of manpower needed on-site, making our project safer and resulting in a higher quality product. One of the constraints of prefabrication is that it requires a certain level of repeatability to make economic sense for a project. However, as our technological tools get more sophisticated we are going to start to push toward digital fabrication. It’s the idea that every project can be unique but still be prefabricated based on building it virtually first.

Brian Sudduth: Office space construction has been slower over the past several years, but we are now starting to see more opportunities for development and redevelopment of office space. The need for construction in hospitality has continued to offer opportunities, and there is still heavy demand for our services in the industrial market. The residential, multifamily market is slowing down, but we have not typically participated in these sectors. I think this is part of the reason why we are seeing opportunities for Miller Construction growing and why 2020 will be just as good if not better for our business.

What is an ongoing challenge the construction industry faces?

Romanchuk: We are working to incorporate data-driven decision-making into all aspects of the business and really moving toward predictive analytics. Every construction project produces so much data but at the same time every project is so unique, which makes it challenging to harness the data produced. Our ability to harness our data as an industry will make us more predictable and at the end of the day that is what most if not all our clients want: predictable outcomes.

Sudduth: The challenge of finding labor in construction is not limited to just identifying people for management roles; it is also finding quality craftsmen to work on these jobs. There are more opportunities than available workers in the marketplace. People leaving Florida and leaving the industry all together during the recession was one factor, but we also have a skills gap because for the last decade, high-school students were encouraged to go to college rather than consider vocational training for things like electrical, plumbing and welding. Those programs are finally seeing a resurgence, but that gap has had an effect on available labor.

What are the factors that contribute to the longevity of your company?

Romanchuk: DPR is and always has been a self-performing general contractor. It really centers around the belief that we are builders at heart and our central belief as a company to respect the individual. This is why we don’t believe in “piece work” and believe in a fair and honest hourly wage and benefits such as health, 401K and paid care leave for all our craft employees.  We have had high levels of retention and are investing in training our employees to make sure they continue to grow their skillset and have upward mobility within DPR. Being a self-performing contractor requires additional resources, time and capital, but we control our own destiny, carry forward respect for the individual and can be part of our industry working to solve the labor gap. 

Sudduth: The longevity of our company is attributed to our business model of always putting our clients first. We never try to chase a revenue number or a product type. Instead, we focus our efforts on quality clients, and through the years we have done a good job of selecting clients that are looking for a long-lasting partnership. We always look out for their best interests, and in return people appreciate that and come back to us whenever they have new projects. We have never been a company that tries to be the biggest. Our goal has always been to be the best construction company.

To learn more about our interviewees, visit:

https://www.millerconstruction.com/

https://www.dpr.com/

The Future is Now for FATVillage

By Max Crampton-Thomas

 

3 min read August 2019 — Fort Lauderdale’s FATVillage makes up for what it lacks in size with a treasure trove of arts, cultural and technological offerings. Founded in the late 1990s by Doug McCraw, the four-block historic warehouse district has developed into an arts hub to rival the most established arts districts in South Florida. While the area was originally founded as a way to rally philanthropic support around the artistic community in Fort Lauderdale, it is now transitioning into the premier destination for artists, small-business owners, technologists and arts enthusiasts.

The emergence of FATVillage has been a thoughtful and deliberate process of encouraging smart development that never diverts from the emphasis on art as the main part of the neighborhood’s DNA. This stands true for the introduction of more mixed-use development into the area, as McCraw highlighted in a recent interview with Invest: Greater Fort Lauderdale, discussing how that development is not only a new concept but also positively affecting the surrounding neighborhoods. “FATVillage has consistently been a significant economic driver in the Broward County region. It has acted not only as an arts community but also as a nucleus for a lot of the development in Flagler Village. What we are doing in terms of using art as a driver of mixed-use development is still a new concept, and not many developers are integrating product development with a creative community in the same way that we are,” McCraw told Invest. 

He also acknowledged that while FATVillage is undergoing a transition to focus on developing its status as an economic driver in the region, the reason for the district’s success has been the deliberate and careful process of deciding who can lease inside the area. “FATVillage is at a transition point. We are very focused on developing FATVillage to make it a treasure for Fort Lauderdale. We have aggregated various types of coworking spaces with different disciplines, all of which are major components of FATVillage. We have a curated process and we do not just lease to the first person who walks in the door. Our focus on art as an integrated part of the DNA of FATVillage makes us a unique component of Fort Lauderdale’s culture,” McCraw said

Helping to achieve this vision for the future of FATVillage, while also remaining true to its arts identity, is Urban Street Development, which has been involved with the district from the beginning. Invest: recently had a conversation with the Co-Founder Alan Hooper about what the next phase of development for FATVillage will look like. “In August, we intend to deliver a plan that will take the FATVillage Art District in downtown Fort Lauderdale into an exciting era that will combine food with art and technology (FAT) and develop a neighborhood where people and businesses of all sizes can find a place to live, create, collaborate, and socialize. The 5- acre-plus plan fully embraces the arts and elevates the opportunities for artists and creative businesses alike. Positioned inside the downtown core, the Opportunity Zone, and a block from Brightline, the options for community building are endless,” Hooper told Invest:. “We want to help FATVillage evolve into the place it should be. A place that is attractive to creative businesses while maintaining the artists who made us a well-known destination. We want to build some affordable housing for artists and local creative people, as well as really cool workspaces for start-up businesses that might represent art in another way, through video or audio, the art of the word, or the art of food. A place like this will be very attractive to businesses that benefit from hiring within a congregation of talent. In the end, we are creating a village that all people can grow with, be a part of and enjoy.” 

Arts and culture is a major key in Florida’s economy, and even more so in Broward County. Areas like FATVillage play a vital role in keeping arts in the county, and acting as a significant economic driver for the region. FATVillage has long been an attractive destination in Fort Lauderdale, but it is now on the cusp of a major transition into a true arts and economic staple in Broward County. 

 

To learn more about our interviewees, visit:

https://www.fatvillage.com/

http://www.urbanstreetdevelopment.com/

Face Off: The Development of Fort Lauderdale

By Max Crampton-Thomas

4 min read August 2019 — Home to more than 180,000 people and growing, Fort Lauderdale continues to work tirelessly to position itself as the premier economic powerhouse in South Florida. This growth and economic development of the city has not happened by chance, but rather, has been a result of well thought out, deliberate and collaborative initiatives from both the local government and community organizations. Two of the leaders driving this development are the independent taxing district known as the Fort Lauderdale Downtown Development Authority and the primary economic development organization for the city, the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance. Invest: Greater Fort Lauderdale had the good fortune to speak with both Bob Swindell, the president and CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, and Jenni Morejon, the president and CEO of the Fort Lauderdale Downtown Development Authority. The conversations explored how the community is addressing climate resiliency, challenges facing development in the city and ultimately how they are working to help Fort Lauderdale achieve its true potential.

 

How have you seen the business community address resiliency as it pertains to climate change?

Jenni Morejon: Nearly 10 years ago, South Florida became a national and global leader in addressing climate change by developing the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Compact made up of Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. Following this sophisticated public sector collaboration, the compact engaged the business community to explain why economic resiliency should be on their agenda. Now, groups like the Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce, the Alliance and the Broward Workshop, and their private sector members, better understand the importance of climate change and why investments in resiliency today will have an ROI and long-term tangible benefit.

Bob Swindell: One of our partner organizations, the Broward Workshop, hosted a scientist from Holland. The Dutch have been dealing with this issue for years, and if you look at their coastal cities, many are below sea level. Our limestone foundation is a little different from what they have in Holland and there are definite differences in geographic qualities, but they have been working to solve flooding issues for years. People in Broward County want to talk about solutions now because they understand that this is a real threat when they see high tides and king tides causing flooding. We really need to think about solutions and how we can work block by block to mitigate this threat. The reality is that it’s going to take more thought to identify the science that will build a system that truly works.

What are some of the most significant challenges facing Fort Lauderdale?

Morejon: Housing affordability is one of the most important issues affecting the present and long-term prosperity of our community. Increasing the supply of housing units in the urban core has been the traditional focus of the Fort Lauderdale DDA. With 5,000 new units under construction in Downtown Fort Lauderdale, this legacy issue requires a more complex and comprehensive solution, incorporating higher-paying jobs and better mass transit to reduce the cost of living. Last year, Broward County voters approved an Affordable Housing Trust Fund and the DDA is now advocating for the use of public land and local financial contributions from the Trust Fund to incentivize new subsidized housing.

Swindell: One challenge we talk about frequently, and this is where publications like Invest: are a real asset, is encouraging investment in Greater Fort Lauderdale. This is not necessarily a problem right now because we still have investment dollars flowing into the area, but I think reinforcing that this community is a good investment destination is vital to our sustainability. As a region, we must be reinforcing and supporting what companies like Stiles are doing when they make a private investment in Fort Lauderdale to create office space inventory, which we can use to attract new companies to the area. Stiles is building the first new corporate commercial high-rise building in 10 years, The Main. That is a great example of creating additional inventory, and I believe that our job is to try to help fill that building. It is important to have that inventory available.

What is the outlook for Greater Fort Lauderdale for the rest of 2019 and into 2020?

Morejon: Over the past 18 years, close to 6.8 million square feet of office, retail, multifamily and hotel space has been built in Downtown Fort Lauderdale. Today, another 6.2 million square feet is under construction with 4,600 new residential units, 600 hotel rooms, and two new Class A office buildings. A combined 400 floors of development are being added to the skyline, effectively doubling the scale of Downtown in just a handful of years. This new critical mass of people will help support the growing retail and restaurant scene and provide a range of housing options to attract a diverse workforce. We’ll also see progress on three important civic projects. The City of Fort Lauderdale and Broward County will be moving forward on the development of a new joint government campus, the site for a new Federal Courthouse will be determined, and with the recent passage of a $200 million parks and open space bond, the city and DDA will be kicking off investments in our Downtown public realm.

Swindell: We conduct an annual poll of chief executives in the region and it came back very positive. South Florida tends to enter a downturn or recession a little bit after the rest of the country has already felt the effects, and we tend to exit these situations quicker. A lot of that is due to international investment, and we do not see that slowing down this year. Based on the construction leasing rates that I’m seeing, the demand is there. With some of the federal tax law changes and what you can deduct for state income tax and state sales tax, there have been some additional opportunities created for the region through people seeking lower tax environments. We have branded our community for many years as providing a “Life. Less taxing.” Florida has been well-managed financially, we don’t have unfunded pension obligations and our state has a surplus every year. South Florida will continue to have another strong year.

To learn more about our interviewees, visit:

https://www.gflalliance.org/

https://www.ddaftl.org/

Spotlight On: Andrew Verzura, Principal, VCM Builders, Inc.

By Max Crampton-Thomas

 

2 min read August 2019 — The amount of construction in a region is almost always an effective gauge of how the local economy is doing. Broward County is among those regions that has become synonymous with an abundance of ongoing and future construction projects, which speaks volumes to its strong and growing economy. Invest: Greater Fort Lauderdale recently spoke with Andrew Verzura, Principal of VCM Builders, Inc, one of the construction companies benefiting from the strong market in Broward County. Verzura discussed trends in the market, how Broward County compares to other markets and what the future of the construction industry in Broward County may look like.

What trends are emerging in the renovation projects VCM is working on?

In construction, we have to constantly regroup because the market changes. In recent years, our company decided to focus on renovations. Some of the trends we are seeing call for cleaner designs because people want to get away from heavy woods and marble, which don’t hold up well. We are seeing more porcelain, lighter colors, fewer moldings and more technology-based demands. Most of these condo buildings that were built 15 years ago did not have the technology we have today, so I’m challenged in every condo building with elevator integration, security integration and package rooms. Millennials want the ability to run almost everything off their phones, and we have to try and meet that demand. 

How does Broward County compare with the other markets you work in? 

The difference with Broward County is that it’s a very small, close-knit community. You can meet the commissioners, public officials or the building official and they all remember you. They are extremely friendly to do business with because they have a set of rules and regulations they follow. Whenever we have issues, I can go speak with somebody. I would say that over the last 15 years, I’ve been able to work with the city to solve 95% of the problems we’ve had. People are coming here because the business environment is so friendly.

How have rising construction costs affected your business? 

Construction costs are very expensive, and they have not gone down. Compared to when we started building spec houses in 2013 to where we are now, construction costs are up 30%. Construction costs are deal breakers for a lot of projects that we are looking at because they just do not make financial sense. The banks are not going to finance projects when the numbers do not make sense and will not work. We have seen many of the large rental communities being funded by pension funds. Most of these projects, which are primarily funded by pension and real estate funds, have been looking for a 6% return.

How does the next year look for the construction industry in Broward County? 

My outlook for Broward is still very strong. There is competition but that is a good thing. I believe we will still see people buy properties here. We have a friendly environment for developing and a government that is pro development. As long as we have builders and developers continuing to focus on sensible building, then we should be in good shape for the next year. We have to be very careful and look at deals that make sense because there are a lot of inflated deals out there right now. People all think their property is worth so much money but in reality it is only worth as much as people are willing to pay for it. The market is leveling off, which is not a bad thing, and it will be interesting to see how the market accepts all the new rental buildings in downtown. 

 

To learn more about our interviewee, visit:

http://vcmbuilders.com