Brightline and Virgin sever rail ties

Brightline and Virgin sever rail ties

By: Beatrice Silva

2 min read August 2020 — Brightline is passing on Virgin Trains. On Aug. 7, the high-speed passenger train operator announced that it would not be rebranded as Virgin Trains USA and would continue its operations under Brightline LLC. The withdrawal represents a sudden and apparently astringent end to the link between Brightline and Virgin Group. 

Brightline originally announced its strategic partnership with billionaire Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, two years ago. Brightline quickly welcomed this new partnership and underwent a complete makeover. Virgin Trains USA was officially supposed to debut its rebranding transformation this summer. However, COVID-19 related issues looks to have stopped the deal dead in its tracks. 

Originally, the relationship seemed like a match made in transit heaven. Branson and his team have carved out a successful enterprise in the transportation and hospitality industry with a fleet of carriers ranging from airplanes to cruise ships. “It’s already a very good experience,” Branson told the South Florida Business Journal in 2019. “We just need to sprinkle a bit of magic dust over it. We need to make sure the two hours, 45 minutes to Orlando is magical, and we are used to doing that in the UK, where we have longer train journeys.” 

Unfortunately, that seamless experience of having guests fly in on Virgin Atlantic then transported on a Virgin Train to their Virgin Voyage will have to be postponed. Branson’s lucrative business, like many others in the hospitality industry, came to a halt as a result of the pandemic. To make matters worse, Brighline’s 2019 passenger count was less than half what it projected and its revenue was less than a fifth of its expectations, according to The Palm Beach Post. The future of Virgin Atlantic Airways remains uncertain after the airline filed Chapter 15 bankruptcy earlier this week. 

Brightline, however, seems to be moving along. Its current routes consist of Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. Progress also continues to be made on its fourth station in Florida at the Orlando International Airport. Operations are scheduled to begin sometime in 2022. There has also been talk of building additional stations in Aventura and Boca Raton. 

The Miami-Dade County Commission was negotiating terms regarding proposed stations with Virgin Trains USA but it’s unclear whether the county will agree to a new county commuter service. “We really need to think about what is the future of transit and how people will get around this town…” Mayor Carlos Gimenez told The Real Deal in June. “We may have as many of 20 to 30 percent of people working out of their homes.” How Brightline’s withdrawal from its Virgin deal will impact the commission’s decision remains unknown.

Although the future of the Brightline expansion may be up in the air, if more stations do pop up it could leave a positive impact on the local economy. Brightline’s expansion could bring over 5,000 jobs on average per year after rail-line construction is complete through 2021 and have a $6.4 billion direct economic impact to Florida’s economy over the next eight years, according to Washington Economics Group, Inc. 

Fort Lauderdale company develops another layer of COVID-19 protection

Fort Lauderdale company develops another layer of COVID-19 protection

By: Beatrice Silva 

2 min read FORT LAUDERDALE — It has been nearly five months since COVID-19 became a pandemic and initiated its assault on the world. On March 13, the United States declared a national state of emergency. Within weeks, local economies were in decline. Millions of people quarantined themselves in the safety of their homes. As the months went on, county officials began to loosen restrictions on non-essential businesses and people slowly started to emerge from the lockdown. What materialized on the other side was a completely new way of living. Wearing a mask inside establishments, waving hello instead of greeting people with a handshake and keeping a safe distance have become the new normal. With that being said, more and more people are looking for additional ways to protect themselves from the novel coronavirus. Veloce BioPharma LLC, a Fort Lauderdale-based company, has raised $2.3 million in equity financing to help scale up manufacturing of its COVID-19 nasal antiseptic and mouth rinse, according to the Philadelphia Business Journal. 

 

Veloce paid homage to its roots by naming its two over-the-counter products after the company it originated from, Halodine. “This is the first iodine-based antiseptic that has ever been shown to have activity against the virus that causes Covid-19,” Dr. Jesse Pelletie, CEO of Veloce and Halodine, said in a news release. The antiseptic contains a polymer-enriched povidone-iodine, which is non-toxic to sensitive areas of the body like the eyes, mouth and skin. 

The spread of COVID-19 most commonly occurs through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks. Those viral aerosols and droplets can remain infectious for up to three hours. Although face coverings are suggested by the CDC to help prevent the spread of the virus, all masks are not created equal. The N95 has been proven to effectively prevent viral spread. However, even the most prestigious hospitals are having trouble obtaining them. A  cloth mask, most commonly worn by the average person, allows air in around the sides. “Masks aren’t enough,” said Samuel Barone, Chief Medical Officer of Veloce BioPharma to the Philadelphia Business Journal. “The world is going to be a different place. We are seeing a changing recognition and a new normal with infection control. There’s never been anything before that could bring economies to a screeching halt like COVID-19 has.”

Even though thousands of companies have adjusted their business to allow their employees to work from home there are still obstacles to overcome. For workers who have to be physically present at their jobs, undergoing a bi-weekly COVID-19 test could become a normal activity but companies should be mindful of the type of test they ask their employees to take. A molecular test is done with a simple nasal or throat swab and it can identify if a person has been infected within three to five days. Antibody tests, on the other hand, can help identify who has already been exposed to COVID-19 to reduce the need for any future testing. 

“The good news is that we’ve been synthesizing a lot of information to come up with simpler, more digestible rules, approaches and strategies that we can use to take the important steps to help people get back to their workplaces… We’re continuing to learn more about these tests and how to interpret them. We’re also gaining more experience with how to use these tests in work environments,” Dr. William Shrank, chief medical officer for Humana, told the South Florida Business Journal.  

 

 

GFL Businesses Adapt as Coronavirus Threat Looms for US

GFL Businesses Adapt as Coronavirus Threat Looms for US

By: Sara Warden

2 min read March 2020 — Businesses across South Florida have been hit by the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic, as the government issued new advice urging people to stay home if possible. Drastic measures have been taken to prevent the further spread of the virus, but some Fort Lauderdale companies are taking the crisis in stride.

 

 

Fort Lauderdale made the decision to close all public beaches, bars, nightclubs and restaurants. All meetings of city boards and committees have been postponed until the end of March at the earliest. Only essential businesses such as pharmacies and grocery stores are excluded from the measures. The TSA reported that one of its agents at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood Airport tested positive for the virus, bringing the tally to two officers across the state.

“We have to do everything possible to minimize crowds and unfortunately, our beautiful beaches must be part of that plan,” said Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis to South Florida Business Journal. “I want to be clear that this is not an overreaction, but a way for us to help stop further cases of COVID-19 in our community.”

With the measures set to last until April 12, one of the biggest concerns for Fort Lauderdale residents – and for people all over the world – is of a potential shortage in supplies of essentials such as canned goods, medicine and toilet paper. 

As the virus response ramped up, Postmates and Walgreens announced an expansion of their partnership to allow customers to order Walgreens pharmacy goods through Postmates and have them delivered to their doors. The service was piloted in New York six months ago but its ramp up to cover a handful of cities including Fort Lauderdale comes at an opportune time to allow citizens to comfortably practice social distancing. 

Businesses are urging employees to work from home, but are threatened by a drop in productivity. Some forward-thinking businesses had already made preparations, having monitored the unfolding situation from its roots in China’s Wuhan region in December. Davie-based Bankers Healthcare Group implemented home office last Friday after extensive testing of its digital systems. 

“We’ve been preparing for this transition for more than a month, checking and testing our systems to ensure we could continue to do business as usual,” co-founder Eric Castro told South Florida business Journal. “We don’t anticipate any challenges or disruption to our business, and are confident we will not lose productivity.”

 

To learn more, visit:

https://www.broward.org/Airport/Pages/default.aspx

https://postmates.com/

https://www.walgreens.com/

https://bankershealthcaregroup.com/

 

For up-to-date advice on the Coronavirus response, you can check the CDC website here.  For Florida-specific information, click here 

Spotlight On: Jeffery Klink, First Senior Vice President & Southern Florida Regional President, Valley Bank

Spotlight On: Jeffery Klink, First Senior Vice President & Southern Florida Regional President, Valley Bank

By Max Crampton-Thomas

 

2 min read August 2019 —During times of economic prosperity, the banking sector is primed to benefit the most, but when the economy begins to slow, or a recession hits, lenders normally feel the harshest effects. This forces banks and financial institutions to be innovative and mindful of how they approach their day-to-day business. There are, of course, the outliers like Valley Bank, which, as noted on its website, has never produced a losing quarter since its founding in 1927. Invest: Greater Fort Lauderdale recently spoke with Jeffery Klink, first senior vice president and Southern Florida regional president for Valley Bank, who spoke about the bank’s efforts to ensure great customer experience, how it differentiates itself in a crowded South Florida marketplace and the biggest challenge facing the banking sector. 

How does Valley Bank ensure a community bank feel while still providing the services of a large regional bank? 

We are a community bank with a regional overlay and that is how we choose to operate. What has been really interesting is that our clients in many cases do not realize that we are a large regional bank unless they need access to loans that are $25 million to $35 million or above. Our core business clients that are looking to borrow $500,000 to $5 million still view us as a community bank because that’s the space that we operate in.

How does Valley Bank differentiate from the competition in the region? 

Being client-centric is really our main differentiating factor in banking. Valley Bank, like most regional and national banks, has a similar technology platform. These systems allow users to access their accounts remotely, and they may very rarely come into our branches. How we mitigate this so the banking experience doesn’t become impersonal is to ensure that each client has a core group of bankers who they know and who know their needs. When customers call our bank, they are actually talking to somebody who knows the client not just from a business standpoint, but also on a personal level. This personal service combined with our technology platform has really allowed us to compete from a service perspective with the community banks.

What is the biggest challenge facing the banking sector? 

The main challenge in banking is balancing interest rate movements. Throughout 2018, we saw Treasury rates increase significantly and that was allowing banks to adjust and increase the rates they were collecting on new loans. In 2019, we have seen interest rates pull back, which has been to the benefit of borrowers because rates have dropped to nearly historical lows. Banks are going to have to address and combat margin compression throughout 2019 because we are collecting less on the loan side and we are paying more than we have for close to 10 years on the deposit side of the balance sheet.

 

To learn more about our interviewee, visit:

 

https://www.valley.com/

Spotlight On: Steven Abrams, Executive Director, South Florida Regional Transportation Authority/Tri-Rail

By Max Crampton-Thomas

 

2 min read August 2019 — Transportation is a hot topic issue throughout South Florida, and as the population in the region continues to grow so do the challenges. While the roads seemingly become more congested every week, there is a significant emphasis on using other forms of transit. For 30 years, Tri-Rail has been one of the leading alternative forms of transit for visitors and residents of South Florida alike. Invest: Greater Fort Lauderdale recently had the chance to sit down and speak with Steven Abrams, the Executive Director for the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, which is the governing body that operates and oversees Tri-Rail. Abrams discussed Tri-Rail’s longevity in the South Florida Community, how it is working in tandem with Virgin Trains USA (formerly Brightline), the ways in which it is using technology to improve operations and what is contributing to the steady uptick in ridership.

What has contributed to Tri-Rail’s longevity in the South Florida community? 

This year is Tri-Rail’s 30th anniversary. Tri-Rail started as a traffic mitigation project along I-95 while 95 was being widened, but it was supposed to be a stop-gap until the completion of the project. Thirty years later, it is still thriving. Over those 30 years, we have improved our service, added more trains, added weekend and holiday service and added connections to the area’s three airports. We are a transportation system that has become popular over time and we have embedded ourselves in the tri-county area.

How are you working with Virgin Trains USA to improve rail transportation in the community? 

We have a collaborative relationship with Brightline, and we anticipate that it will only be a benefit to both services. Brightline is geared more toward the tourism population, whereas Tri-Rail transports 15,000 riders a day to work and school. Our riders mainly consist of clerical workers, blue-collar workers, construction workers and students. It is a different market than Brightline, but we work very closely together and hope to be able to feed each other’s passengers into our system. We are far along on plans to enter Brightline’s downtown Miami station. The platform has been constructed, and we are just waiting on the approval for its Positive Train Control system. Positive Train Control is a safety system that was mandated by the federal government for all railroads in the country. Once Brightline’s system has been certified, we can apply to be a tenant on its system and continue our existing service and extend up to about half of our trains into downtown Miami. We are hopeful that this will occur in the near future.

How is Tri-Rail using new technology to improve operations and the safety of its passengers?

We are installing a Positive Train Control system that adds an extra level of safety on what is already a safe system. The National Safety Council did a survey and concluded that you are more likely to die of radiation or from a cataclysmic storm than you are being a passenger on a train. The Positive Train Control system is required by the federal government, and we anticipate that it will add that extra measure of safety in terms of avoiding oncoming collisions. If the train is going too fast, the system will automatically slow it down. We do not have many curves on our system, so this is probably more of a benefit for trains up north where there are hills and curves. Nonetheless, we will be able to stop the train should it exceed speed limits.

What factors are behind the steady increase in Tri-Rail’s ridership? 

There are three reasons and two are, in a way, related. 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 are urging them to seek alternative transportation.

 

To learn more about our interviewee, visit:

 

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

Spotlight On: Drew Melville, Real Estate and Land Use Attorney, Melville Law, P.A.

By Max Crampton-Thomas

 

2 min read August 2019 — South Florida’s economic boom has resulted in increased migration to the area, a rise in small businesses and most significantly, an abundance of real estate and transit development projects. While these development projects are a positive sign that the economy is thriving, they are also associated with a litany of legal paperwork, proceedings and barriers as well as the negative side effects for the environment in South Florida. Invest: Greater Fort Lauderdale recently spoke with Drew Melville, real estate and land use attorney for Melville Law, P.A. He spoke about some of the more negative side effects from this increased development in South Florida, how Broward County should be an example in regards to environmental sustainability and his outlook for the next year given the region’s growth.

What has been one of the most significant negative effects of increased development in South Florida? 

Our mission statement has always been about redeveloping the urban corridors and preserving rural and agricultural lands in Florida, which are dwindling. We are losing farmers, and wilderness land as well. The whole concept of putting highways in places where there is nothing but agricultural land is terrible and only caters to specific groups of large landowners. This issue is so much bigger than the interests of a couple of large, rural landowners, and I am hoping Florida moves past the never-ending sprawl development. 

How should Broward County be viewed in regards to environmental sustainability? 

The biggest challenge for South Florida is environmental sustainability. Many people from all over the world are investing in this high-growth area, and we have to hope that they are not only investing in developing here but also in the sustainability and resilience of the area. Broward is very forward thinking and environmentally conscious, and the county should be looked to as an example for some of these areas that are developing without regard to the effect they are having on the environment. 

What is your outlook for Broward County over the next year? 

“Fort Lauderdale is still growing, and there are a ton of projects in the approval process. The city is also growing while preserving its history and keeping its historic buildings intact, which is great for the community and our identity. There are also a lot of towns around Broward that have Opportunity Zones and they are trying to capitalize on them now. I’d like to see more development along the Dixie corridor in Pompano and Deerfield. It would also be great to see more food operators in areas that are considered “food deserts,” which is defined as more than a mile stretch without an option for healthy food.”

 

 

To learn more about our interviewee, visit:

https://www.melville.law/

Spotlight On: Gregory Stuart, Executive Director, Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization

By Max Crampton-Thomas

 

2 min read August 2019 — Almost a billion dollars a year are spent on transportation in Broward, and as the region continues to grow so will this number. With so much money being funneled into transportation, there must be an overseer to decide how to disperse these federal funds. This overseer is the federally-mandated agency The Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization. Invest: Greater Fort Lauderdale recently spoke to Executive Director of the MPO Gregory Stuart, who discussed how the passage of the penny sales tax will help fund new transportation initiatives, the more immediate changes Broward will see thanks to the sales tax and the challenges facing transportation in the county. 

What have been Broward MPO’s most significant highlights over the last year? 

There have been three. The first is possibly the most significant, which was the passage of the penny sales tax that added $350 million a year to our annual budget. We spend about a billion dollars a year on transportation in Broward, so adding this $350 million is a substantial increase in transportation spending for our region. Second, was the municipal portion of that sales tax, which was one of the most significant items to be included in the penny sales tax. While we can talk about the large-scale projects that the sales tax will generate for the region, the impact of 23% of that money being dedicated to our municipal partners to build quality of life improvements when it comes to the transportation system is going to be key. It will provide those dedicated funding sources for our community shuttles, which folks use to go to the grocery store, appointments and other short distances. Third, was the implementation of the quiet zones for the FEC and CSX tracks here in Broward. While this didn’t necessarily improve the overall condition of transportation, it improved the quality of life for the residents along both of those corridors. 

What will be some of the more immediate changes due to the passage of the penny sales tax for transportation? 

Realistically, the immediate changes aren’t going to result in construction. We are focusing on enhancing the traffic signalization program. This includes coordination between traffic lights and people’s vehicles through the installation of 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. 

What are some of the biggest challenges facing transportation and transit in Broward County?

The biggest challenge that we face is just trying to get everybody on the same page, whether it is a local government, the county government, the state government, the federal government or homeowners and business associations. It can be a very difficult task, but it can be done. We are working to strengthen the relationship between the three counties: Miami Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach. They all need to be talking to one another if we are going to make real positive change when it comes to transportation needs across South Florida. 

To learn more about our interviewee, visit:

http://www.browardmpo.org/