By: Felipe Rivas
2 min read November 2020 — In South Florida, the COVID-19 pandemic pressed the brakes on years of continuous growth. For Palm Beach County, however, a decadeslong focus on economic diversification, especially in the financial and lending space, led by the Business Development Board (BDB) proved to pay dividends in the midst of a global pandemic.
Prior to the pandemic, the county steadily attracted asset managers, hedge fund managers and other financial professionals, mainly from the Northeast, year after year. It is estimated that thanks to the BDB’s efforts, more than 100 financial services firms have flocked to the county to enjoy the tax and climate benefits. In the 2019-2020 fiscal year, the BDB assisted 25 companies to relocate to or expand operations in Palm Beach County, creating more than 2,900 high salary jobs, occupying 1.64 million sq. ft. of space with a capital investment of more than $126 million.
“As a long-standing member and former chair of the Business Development Board, I can say that (President and CEO) Kelly Smallridge and her team, as well as several members of the BDB, were heavily instrumental in helping to market to Northeastern financial firms,” Benjamin Boynton, branch manager of Boynton Financial Group Inc. told Invest: Palm Beach. “It has been so successful over the years that West Palm Beach designated part of the Downtown area as the Financial District, as a bevy of hedge funds and other financial firms set up shop and continue to move down here. The beauty of it is that it attracts talent, generating several successful cluster-types of businesses in Palm Beach County. Since 2015, it has become a highly sought-after place not only for its tax environment, beaches and lifestyle but also for its resources,” he said.
This year, the pandemic, inadvertently, has become another catalyst for many leaders in the financial services industry to relocate or expand their presence in the Sunshine State, with cities like West Palm Beach seeing a lot of that activity. The pandemic’s acceleration of remote work capabilities and consumer desire to live in less densified, urban areas, coupled with the BDB’s efforts to attract financial services firms, created notable economic development activity for the county in a year marred by bleak projections.
In October, Elliott Management, a $41- billion hedge fund manager, selected the city of West Palm Beach as its corporate headquarters. The firm, which employs 466 people across the world, relocated to West Palm Beach from Midtown Manhattan. “Many Northeasterners came to Palm Beach County during the pandemic to provide a safe environment for their families. They soon realized that they could do the same work here as they could in their offices in Manhattan. This led to a tremendous amount of inquiries and opened many doors for Palm Beach County,” said the BDB’s Smallridge at the time.
Similarly, Justin Cooper, Founder and CEO of Layla Capital, used this economic cycle to make the move to the “Wall Street of the South,” as the region is known. Layla Capital is a bridge lender focused on small- to middle-market debt opportunities across the Eastern United States who was looking to extend into the Florida market. “Having spent the last decade based in New York City, we relocated to South Florida on Aug. 1, 2020,” Cooper told Invest: Palm Beach. “What drove this move was the tremendous business opportunity to expand our footprint and grow our loan portfolio throughout the Florida markets. Historically, we have done deals in the Northeast, greater East Coast, and the Midwest, but we have always wanted to expand into the South Florida market,” Cooper said. “This state has so much to offer – it is incredibly business-friendly, there are so many commercial and residential real estate market opportunities to invest in and it is a wonderful place to raise my family. On top of all of that, there is beautiful weather year round. We are certainly looking to expand our network here and expand our footprint on both the connections side and the deals side.”
While Northeasterners have traditionally eyed and moved to Palm Beach County for pleasure and for business, the region’s reputation has traveled to the West Coast, attracting business owners from as far as California. Throughout 2020, the BDB has identified about a dozen California-based businesses that are eying a relocation to the Sunshine State.
In October, GlobalListings.com, the world’s largest online international real estate listings search platform, based in Irvine, Ca, announced its move from the West Coast to the city of West Palm Beach. With over 2.3 million property postings per month from more than 90 countries, the company’s East Coast regional sales and marketing office is set to open in January 2021. “South Florida’s strong ties to the real estate industry, emerging fintech sector and international market access, coupled with its great workforce, friendly low-tax business environment and high quality of life, makes West Palm Beach an obvious choice to plant our company’s flag on the East Coast,” CEO Michael Gerrity said.
The BDB assisted the company in its strategy to enter the West Palm Beach market and is providing key introductions to important local key business and technology leadership within Palm Beach County. “We’re proud to welcome the world’s largest online international real estate listings platform to Palm Beach County. The company’s fast growth indicates the creation of more jobs and opportunities fueled by the innovation at the future East Coast office,” Smallridge said at the time.
For more information, visit: https://www.bdb.org/index.php