The West Palm Beach Downtown Development Authority (DDA) is charged with promoting and enhancing a vibrant Downtown West Palm Beach for all. Executive Director Raphael Clemente spoke with Invest:Insights about the DDA’s strategies to position Downtown for growth and addressed the challenges impacting the area. The opening of the new downtown trolley was celebrated by the local community and was a step in the right direction for downtown’s mobility vision, he remarked.
Traditionally, chambers of commerce have been key partners for local businesses. Their role as a community partner was further pronounced during the current health crisis. In Palm Beach County, the Palm Beach North Chamber of Commerce has actively advocated for the local business community with key initiatives such as extending ordinances to have outside seating at restaurants. The safe return to events is currently a major focus for the chamber, Noel Martinez President and CEO told Invest:Insights.
Experts believe Florida is poised for a strong recovery by the end of 2021, especially as industries like the service sector begin to recuperate. In the meantime, the passing of another stimulus package is essential to the recovery process, PNC Financial Services Group Florida Economist Abbey Omodunbi told Invest:Insights. The first stimulus packages last year enabled the Florida business ecosystem to weather the storm better yet further assistance is needed in the recovery process. The housing market is a bright spot throughout the state and is predicted to remain strong in 2021. Overall markets like Tampa, Miami and Orlando have performed very well despite the tumultuous landscape, Omodunbi said.
SBA loans have been key in helping businesses maintain operations throughout the pandemic. These loans are essential and can really propel businesses forward at this moment in time, Florida Business Development Corporation’s President and CEO Bill Habermeyer told Invest: Insights. The SBA 504 loan program is vital in helping small businesses and clearing up any kind of misconceptions around fees is important, he said.
The initial pandemic shock to the construction industry was filled with uncertainty and unanswered questions about the future of projects. In markets where construction was deemed essential the activity moved forward despite the pandemic related challenges. For ANF Group, business grew around 40 percent year-over-year and hiring continued, President Al Fernandez told Invest: Insights. He believes this experience demonstrated the industry’s resilience and ability to bring more talent to the labor pool.
Connecting with young legal talent has proved to be a challenge in the remote working environment. National firm Fox Rothschild, for example, ramped up virtual team training and created new virtual team building opportunities as a result of the pandemic disruption. The remote work environment has also increased cost savings while making legal work more convenient, Partner Robert Sacco told Invest: Insights. While law firms have adopted well to the remote working environment, ultimately many intangible aspects are lost in the virtual world, Sacco said.
Ava Parker, President of Palm Beach State College, is incredibly excited to expand their diversity and inclusion programs. She believes that their college should be an example of the county with a 1/3rd black, 1/3rd white, and a 1/3rd Hispanic student community. Despite challenges caused by the pandemic, it has allowed the opportunity for more communication to take place across the college’s spread-out campus. Parker believes Palm Beach State College is an integral part of the local economy, especially in current times, as the college helps people get back on their feet and provides opportunities to people who have lost their jobs.
Raphael Clemente, Executive Director of the West Palm Beach Downtown Development Authority, believes the city is well-suited to weather out the economic storm. He noted during his interview with Invest:Insights that West Palm Beach has a charming downtown area with outdoor entertainment and an environment that is great for its residences but also attractive to those who are trying to flee the Northeast. The Downtown Development Authority has adapted well to the business communities’ needs with a variety of programs from Downtown To Go to Dining on the Spot to cleaning and providing health sanitation assistance.
General wellness does not always equate to traditional western medicine and companies like Ultimaxx Health are on a mission to prove that. In his conversation with Invest: Insights, Lenny Lomax, M.D. the President and CEO of Ultimaxx Health spoke on their research efforts as it pertains to their natural solutions and towards the COVID-19 pandemic. He also drove home that resilience is one of their core principles and an element in everything they do.
It may still be awhile before businesses are back to being able to operate as they did pre-COVID-19, but the positive attitude and forward thinking are palpable in Palm Beach County as a lot of businesses have been able to reopen their doors in phase 1 of Florida’s reopening process. Troy McLellan, the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce, discussed with Abby Melone how happy the business community was to be reopening their doors, and how they have been following the mandates of the law to ensure a safe environment.
Palm Beach County has experienced a rough transition from a low unemployment rate to a high unemployment rate as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. However, Business Development Board President and CEO is confident Palm Beach County will be able to weather this storm and successfully emerge from the current volatile economic climate, she told Invest: Insights. Palm Beach County boasts a diversified economy and is happy to welcome new residents and businesses seeking to relocate to the region and tap into its educated workforce and available office space. To help the embattled business community, the county is offering close to $70 million in assistance dollars to small and large businesses.
While social distancing measures help to reduce the spread of disease, research is ultimately the key to defeating disease and global pandemics like COVID-19. David Fitzpatrick, Scientific Director and CEO of the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience, discussed with Abby Melone how research has really come into the foreground during this pandemic, and that this experience has been a glaring example of the need to support the global science community. He also spoke on how his institution is monitoring how the virus may affect the brain and that it will be incredibly important to continue to watch, fund and support these efforts.
COVID-19 has challenged everyone in the United States, but the challenges have had varying degrees of impact. For Palm Beach County, small businesses are hurting while hospitals in the region are preparing for a possible surge of patients but are currently only sitting at about 50% capacity, Robert Weinroth, Vice Mayor of Palm Beach County discussed with Abby Melone.
While many hospitals across the United States have experienced a significant influx of patients due to COVID-19, certain specialty outpatient centers have begun to see a decrease in new patient volume. Todd Schonherz, COO of Florida Cancer Specialists, spoke about this decrease in volume with Abby Melone which he attributed to the pandemic causing many people to not have their regularly scheduled procedures and doctors visits. He discussed that a lot of the time these procedures and visits are where doctors initially discover cancer in patients.
While no one could have been prepared for the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought upon the United States, there are organizations that specialize in helping guide through the community through disasters like this. One such organization is Witt O’Brien’s, who are currently playing the role of communicating the needs of the business community to the various governments that they work with and vice versa. Brad Gair, Senior Managing Director of Witt O’Briens, told Abby Melone about the organization’s efforts to supply as much information as possible so that people can understand what is accessible to them and what will be helpful in helping them pull through this pandemic.
The strength of the U.S. economy is dependent upon a strong business community and the entrepreneurs behind these successful businesses. Andrew Duffell, the President of Research Park at Florida Atlantic University, wholly supports this notion and expressed to Abby Melone that it is essential for there to be continuous investment in education and research to support these entrepreneurs. He also noted that, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there is a lot of adaptability and collaboration happening within the business community, as demonstrated by those businesses in the Research Park.
While the state and federal grant and loan bridge programs to support local businesses through the COVID-19 pandemic have been a plus, they are, for the most part, tapped out. This has left many businesses searching elsewhere for funds including on the local level which Dennis Grady, President and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of the Palm Beaches, spoke on during his conversation with Abby Melone. He also discussed the repercussions that public agencies in Florida will face from the lack of state sales tax currently being collected and what that could mean for their budgets in the future.