Spotlight On: Ava Parker, President, Palm Beach State College

Spotlight On: Ava Parker, President, Palm Beach State College

By: Felipe Rivas

2 min read May 2020 — Palm Beach State College succeeded in transferring most of its programs to a remote format to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic that hit the world early in 2020. The college is preparing the next generation of business leaders and frontline workers with business programs, health sciences career tracks, and fire and law enforcement among its most popular offerings. In an interview with Invest: Palm Beach, college President Ava Parker discussed the school’s most popular programs, its role as a stepping stone to a better life for students, and its stress on academic focus.


What are the most popular programs for the college?

As a state college, 60% of our students come here to earn an Associate in Arts (A.A.) degree and transfer to our bachelor’s programs or to a university bachelor’s program, most frequently in the state. Most of our students want to transfer to Florida Atlantic University or the University of Central Florida. Florida International University and the University of Florida are also top choices. 

In our A.A. pathway, many students want to go into business. Our entrepreneurship A.A. and bachelor’s degree tracks are popular, as is getting the business foundation needed to transfer to a university’s program.

Another popular area is health sciences. Many of our students are the first in their families to go to college, so for them, they are thinking about where they have seen people succeed, which people have improved their economic condition because of their chosen profession. Many of our students go into health sciences because that is an area where they can always find a job. The fields that are popular include dental hygiene, nursing, ophthalmic medical technology, respiratory care and radiography. Those are Associate in Science degree programs that many of our students see as opportunities to move from a lower socioeconomic status to the middle class. Most years, 100% of our ophthalmic graduates are placed right away, including at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, where we have a tremendous partnership. Our respiratory care graduates are picked right up once they pass their national boards, as are the radiography and dental hygiene graduates. And of course, our longest waiting list is for nursing. We are a sought-after solution for students, and also hospitals and doctors’ offices, because they understand that our program is rigorous and turns out great nurses. We also have bachelor’s programs in nursing and cardiopulmonary sciences for nurses and respiratory therapists who want to advance.

Our fire, law enforcement and corrections academies are also very popular. Many of our citizens rely on these programs as the primary route to entering those public safety fields. 

How does the college help students update skills to transfer to other institutions? 

Our bachelor’s degree programs are a fast lane. When I shake hands with students who are graduating with our bachelor’s degrees, most of them are in their 30s. They are folks who already have a job, and they found their way to us because they were sitting at work, and there was an HR announcement about a job opportunity that required a bachelor’s degree. 

We are ideal for those people because they can continue to work at their jobs, and they can come to us in the evenings or attend online to earn those additional credentials. We also can do that at a reasonable cost. 

How are your trade programs structured?

Regarding our trade programs, we are the workforce solution for adults in Palm Beach County. We see that as a hallmark of what we do as an institution for people who enjoy working with their hands, or people who want a shorter term of study and come out ready for work. We have long waiting lists for many of our trade certificate programs, which prepare students to become welders, HVAC technicians, machinists, low voltage technicians, electricians, automotive, diesel and marine service technicians as well as cosmetologists and barbers. Our Engineering Technology and Electrical Power Technology A.S. degree programs are producing much-needed technicians to support the manufacturing, aerospace and electrical power generation industries. In fact, graduates of PBSC trade programs can be found throughout the county, contributing to its growth and innovation. 

How is COVID-19 shaping the educational landscape?

I am concerned every day about students withdrawing. Our spring break was the first week of March, and I recall having the first conversation with my leadership team about us preparing for COVID-19. I never would have guessed that a month later most of my staff would be working from home, as well as all of our instruction happening remotely. My biggest worry, because we were able to successfully transfer most of our programs to a remote format, was related to our firefighter and police academies, because our instructors, who are first responders out there at work dealing with the situation, were not available to instruct our students. It was also considered a liability to have our Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) program students out there in the hospitals doing their clinical rounds, as well as our nursing students. The hardest thing has been stressing to our students to remain focused on their academic trajectory. Some of them did not have the devices to actually make the transition, so we had to go and look throughout the college for every laptop available for our students to check out, because it is really difficult to do your homework from your phone.

To learn more about our interviewee, visit:

Staying connected: ‘Saturday Soiree’ in Palm Beach

Staying connected: ‘Saturday Soiree’ in Palm Beach

By: Felipe Rivas

2 min read April 2020 — The novel coronavirus forced a global halt to major international, regional and local events. From the NBA season to networking conferences, all gatherings of any size stopped abruptly in an effort to flatten the curve and prevent COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, from spreading further. However, as the population at large becomes accustomed to social distancing, stay at home orders and self quarantining, many events went from a hard stop to full speed ahead virtually. As the business community adjusts to the challenges of the disruption caused by the coronavirus, many institutions are building value and maintaining relationships with patrons by maximizing the use of webinars, online classes, video conferences and even virtual happy hours. 

In its “Staying Connected” series, Invest: is talking to leaders in various markets about their efforts to, well … stay connected.

In Palm Beach, a region known for its daily community outdoor events and weekend parties,  institutions have had to shift to online platforms to preserve the community feel and give people an escape from social distancing. The West Palm Beach Downtown Development Authority did just that by hosting a party with musicians online. “This past saturday, we hosted what was to have been an outdoor event called ‘the Saturday Soiree’ with musicians and we streamed it throughout social media and let each one of them have their set,” Executive Director Raphael Clemente told Invest: Palm Beach. “It was a big success and gave us ideas on how to keep Downtown top of mind,” he said. 

The authority is focusing on being a support system for residents and Downtown business leaders in this period of economic uncertainty. “We meet with a lot of stakeholders, and internally. I am loving Skype and Zoom. We have gone to these platforms as everyone else has. As a team, a big part of our conversation was how we can do our job of marketing and sharing information, but keeping top of mind the sensitivity of people right now to their business issues,” Clemente said. “It is not just what we are saying, but how we are saying it. Also, just picking up the phone, versus using only email, is an important thing to do.”

The video conference platform, Zoom, has quickly become ubiquitous across the virtual events space. Across economic sectors, different institutions are taking advantage of Zoom and similar platforms. To host a successful virtual event, event planners must decide between hosting a virtual meeting or a webinar. “If you expect attendees to mostly just listen,” the best option is a webinar, Zoom advises as part of its digital event best practices. “When you need more back and forth between the audience and the host,” planners should choose a virtual meeting, the platform advises. 

Once the type of digital event has been narrowed down, hosts should hardwire the internet connection to prevent any Wi-Fi-related hiccups or virtual lag. In terms of audio, hosts should test speakers and audio prior to the meeting and minimize any background noise, according to Zoom. Additionally, hosts should dress to impress and make sure to start the virtual event on time. It is important to set the tone of the event and encourage Q&A’s during the virtual meeting or webinar. As a best practice, Zoom recommends the use of the Chat function to keep track of questions and comments. For larger webinars, Zoom offers a PayPal integration to charge the registration fees seamlessly. 

For the time being, social distancing will be part of the mainstream business landscape until at least May. However, many institutions are adjusting and pivoting more and more to the virtual hosting model to build value, share information and regain a sense of community in a time where residents are being asked to self-isolate as much as possible.  

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Spotlight On: Renee Jadusingh, Executive Director, Delray Beach CRA

Spotlight On: Renee Jadusingh, Executive Director, Delray Beach CRA

By: Felipe Rivas

2 min read March 2020The Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) was established by the City Commission in 1985 to guide the city in its redevelopment efforts. The purpose of the CRA is to revitalize the physical environment and the economy of the Community Redevelopment Area. The CRA’s activities are designed to solve the underlying problems of slum and blighted conditions through planning, redevelopment, historic preservation, economic development and affordable housing.

What is the key characteristic for a successful CRA?

Communication is a very important component for investment. We need to communicate what we have done and where we are going to attract the right investment. A focus for us on a city level is the Northwest-Southwest neighborhood, which is an Opportunity Zone. We have the land and are open to working with a third party to develop it. In this area, we want to have a continuation of Downtown from I-95 all the way to the beachfront. That is a shared goal between the Chamber of Commerce, the City Commissioners and the CRA. We provide resources to help small businesses grow, including funding, help with business plans, research, investment guidance and grant and federal funding applications.

How do you balance support for small businesses with trying to attract bigger companies to the area?

As a CRA, we have programs that are available for businesses that want to renovate or relocate into the area. We provide funding for up to a year to help businesses with their rent, which encourages people to come to our district. We have programs to renovate structures through investment funds. We also acquire property to turn around to developers through an RFP process such as 4th and 5th Delray and the Fairfield Inn, which is a land-lease with an option to purchase.

How are you avoiding the pitfalls that come with gentrification, such as affordable housing and connectivity?

Affordable housing is a big part of our mission. We have always worked with the community land trust, which the CRA and the city created to help with affordable housing issues. The city has a workforce housing ordinance that provides a density bonus for developers that provide housing for certain income levels. We have a 7-acre redevelopment project taking place in the Northwest-Southwest area, which is taking advantage of that density bonus. As a CRA, we are in the process of building 30 single-family homes in this neighborhood.

In the commercial segment, we are looking at building out two spaces. One is a property we purchased in 2018. At first, we allocated it to housing but we realized there was more of a need for office space and changed directions. The top floor will be a coworking space with some individual offices, hot desks and a shared desk area. The ground floor will be traditional office space and perhaps a restaurant. If we own this, we can control the rent, which will help companies grow, but at some point, this would be turned over to a management company. We are open to opportunities for partnerships in the meantime.

The other project is a vacant piece of land on Southwest 5th Avenue, which is a historic business district that thrived in the 1950s among the African American population. Our focus is to bring back activity into that corridor. We are in the design phase to build a two-story office space in the building and this could be an investment opportunity for a third party. The Arts Warehouse is in the Arts Alley area, and we renovated this into an arts incubator, so we have about 15 artists renting small spaces at a rate of $2.50 per square foot. There is also a gallery in this space where people can apply to display their work. We are also putting about $2 million into the ground infrastructure in the Arts Alley district.

How are you attracting young entrepreneurs, especially in the tech sector, to Delray Beach?

The kind of investments we are making on Northwest 5th Avenue demonstrates that. One is a coworking space and we also are renovating a more modern-looking building. If they come to us, we direct them to the right avenues to encourage their ideas. But ultimately, after the business plan, they need a place to go, and that’s where the CRA comes in. The 7-acre project requires that at least three business spaces are used for locals, so we can keep encouraging local young businesses to grow and thrive. The Arts Warehouse is not a traditional gallery and is definitely a novel concept.

We invest a lot of money with the city to do the underground, which is not necessarily an attractive investment, but it is necessary. The infrastructure has to be there to support the growth of an area. To help encourage businesses, we contribute that development, otherwise it may fall to the developer. This is our way of encouraging businesses to come here.

What are some of your main goals for 2020?

The investment in the Northwest-Southwest corridor is our most important project. We are also investing in a park where famous tennis players, such as the Williams sisters, trained. To date, we have invested about $3 million in a $25 million project that is intended to concentrate activity in this area. 

To learn more about our interviewee, visit:

Stay hopeful: Handling coronavirus-related stress in Palm Beach County

Stay hopeful: Handling coronavirus-related stress in Palm Beach County

By: Felipe Rivas

2 min read March 2020 — With constant updates on the coronavirus and its impact on the United States, social media posts displaying frenzied buying, and closure of schools and other municipal buildings, it is easy to stress and feel coronavirus-related anxiety. As you monitor the news for the latest coronavirus developments in Palm Beach County, here are a few ways to make daily life under this changing landscape more bearable.

Try that new restaurant you were craving, via takeout or delivery of course

Many states and municipalities are enforcing early curfews or closing dine-in options altogether in the midst of the coronavirus. However, that does not mean you have to forego that delicious entree or amazing dessert you were craving. Go ahead and treat yourself to succulent food by perusing the different delivery options UberEats, Grubhub, and Delray’s own Delivery Dudes have to offer. Delivery Dudes and the like offer favorite, local restaurant options to enjoy if you are shacked up with the little ones and their homework duties, or neck deep with remote work.     

Go out for a beach walk

As government leaders encourage social distancing, this may be the best time to get in touch with nature and disconnect from the stress brought on by the coronavirus talks. MacArthur Beach State Park in North Palm Beach is the perfect place to stay six feet away from people and then some. Though events have been canceled, the park remains open until further notice and is encouraging beach walks. Dip your feet in the sand, stretch, and breathe in the Palm Beach air as you take a mental break from the news and other worries. 

Connect with others

In this particularly stressful period, it is easy to sulk and retreat from others, especially with talks of self-isolation and quarantine. However, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recommends to use this time to reach out to others who may also feel stressed and anxious due to the coronavirus pandemic. The administration recommends that reaching out to those you trust is one of the best ways to reduce anxiety, depression, loneliness and boredom during the possibility of social distancing, quarantine and isolation. SAMHSA recommends to use telephone, email, text or email messaging, as well as Skype and other video conferencing services to stay in touch with loved ones and friends. The administration recommends to maintain a hopeful and positive attitude during this time and to consider keeping a journal to write down grateful and positive thoughts. 

Family staycations:

Staycations have been part of the social conscience for some years, and now is the time to perfect the coveted family staycation. Use this time to have some fun with the entire family as schools and workplaces transition into online classes and remote work. Come up with an after-dinner family movie list or interactive project. Maybe it’s time to dust off those boardgames or old books littering the garage, and why not do some spring cleaning while you’re at it. Perhaps a family dance-off or storytelling competition could help break the monotony of being indoors and bring the family closer together. Try it out. With so much time indoors, it is the perfect time to enjoy family time in a totally new fashion. 

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

Florida leaders monitor COVID-19

Florida leaders monitor COVID-19

By: Felipe Rivas

2 min read March 2020As an increasing number of countries experience outbreaks of the coronavirus, or COVID-19, Florida leaders are urging residents to stay calm despite two confirmed cases in the Sunshine State. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis this week announced the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed two people in Manatee and Hillsborough counties having tested positive for COVID-19, the Palm Beach Post reported. “Despite these cases, the overall immediate threat to the public remains low,” DeSantis said, according to the newspaper. State Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees advised residents to stay calm. “You can go about your normal business,” he said. 


As of Tuesday, there have been 124 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States, according to the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering. While there have been no confirmed cases in Palm Beach, the county and municipalities are monitoring the situation closely. Town of Palm Beach officials, fire rescue personnel and law enforcement have been actively monitoring developments related to the Coronavirus since it was first discovered in Wuhan, China, the town of Palm Beach said in a press release.

The town of Palm Beach public safety personnel have reviewed and adjusted their emergency response plans in full compliance with CDC and the Florida Department of Health (FDOH) recommendations, and are prepared to handle any potential coronavirus impact in our community should it occur, the municipality announced. 

Currently, Palm Beach County schools function as normal, though the district is ramping up its cleaning methods in all schools, the Palm Beach Daily News reported. The district is buying additional bleach and wipes to disinfect surfaces throughout the school system. The cleaning initiative will be re-evaluated at the end of March “to determine if continued intensive cleaning is warranted,” the newspaper reported.

In its risk assessment, the CDC reports that most people in the United States will have little immediate risk of exposure to the virus. The COVID-19 virus is not spreading widely in the United States; however, updates are to follow, the CDC reported. There is no vaccine, so prevention is the best approach, the town of Palm Beach advised. The town recommended residents to wash hands often, avoid the touching of eyes, nose, and mouth as much as possible, and to seek out the flu shot if not done already, among other precautions.


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